We gave it an F
Halfway into it, and battling a fierce case of exhaustion I might have diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome had I not experienced the same symptoms reading his stuff before, I finally figured out the best way to finish The Informers, the fourth novel by the willfully enervating Bret Easton Ellis: Do 10 pages, take a nap. Do another 10, watch a Mary Tyler Moore rerun. Finish a chapter, celebrate with a Snickers bar. Don’t, for God’s sake, touch any alcohol, not if you want to make it to the end of this soul-dead collection of poorly drawn sketches stitched together as a novel. Do remember that Ellis’ work does not represent the state of hip fiction today. In fact, in the broad publishing picture, it barely represented hipitude nine years ago, when Less Than Zero put the now 30-year-old writer on the nightclub map with his scenes of rich, zombied young people in Los Angeles, circa 1984. Ellis’ oeuvre has always seemed to me like the notes written on a napkin after a hard, glittery night of partying: a few cool phrases, a lot of blurry pictures, some nasty, dirty stains, nothing with staying power. You think, you had to be there, and then you remember even when you were there, it was awful.
So is The Informers, which is about rich, zombied young people in Los Angeles, circa 1984. Their stories are told as monologues. Sometimes their stories overlap: An estranged father and son go on a sad vacation to Hawaii; a drug-deranged rock musician who likes to torture groupies is carted around by his roadies; a young woman writes a series of letters to an unresponsive boyfriend back East, charting her dissolution from a wholesome, lively person to a shallow, self-involved nitwit (”A friend of Carlos’ was found dead in a garbage can in Studio City. He had been shot in the head and skinned. How awful, huh?”); a vampire looks for fresh blood.
Vampire? Oh, right (yawn): This is the same author who made big, controversial noise three years ago with American Psycho, a nasty party trick of a book about a rich, zombied young man (in Manhattan! A variation!) who defines himself by the brand names he consumes and who loves to torture and murder between restaurant meals. American Psycho was a hateful creation, but it was novel. The Informers is hateful and even the inclusion of blood-sucking doesn’t get the pulse up:
”Are you like ” She stops smiling.
”Like, a…” She doesn’t finish.
”A vampire?” I suggest, grinning.
”No-an agent,” she asks seriously.
That’s high Ellis spirits.
There’s something terribly, terribly wrong here: with storytelling, with things shaped like books that are written — and published — like this, with poor, tired Bret Easton Ellis, who is either trapped in a prison of his own highly hyped invention or else seriously out of gas. In his dark, sclerotic heart, it’s always 1984, it’s always Los Angeles, and it’s always just too damn much trouble to care about anything. Fast drugs, fast cars, and fast bored, boring sex are always available. Young people have names like Dirk and Griffin and Mona. ”I walk away from Mona,” one of the undead recounts. ”I know what the word gone means. I know what the word dead means. You deal with it, you mellow out, you head back to town.”
I head back to planet Earth for another Snickers bar. This book has left me bushed. F