Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why We Write

Part Two of BEE week. I'm blushing, I know, my fan-side is showing. At least I'm not as much of a backer of Bret Easton Ellis as Jonathon Keats, and that guy is a genius. Anyway, here we go, in this post I'm making connections between the real world, Lunar Park, and the new Imperial Bedrooms, hope it's fun.

From his very debut, Bret Easton Ellis has been mistaken for his characters, so it’s no wonder that he deals with this issue as best as he can as a writer: by writing about it. This begins in Lunar Park, where he steals the writer as character transition from Philip Roth. The protagonist of Lunar Park is indeed Bret Easton Ellis, himself, but this is not the man who we think we know, not completely. This is essentially a joke—Ellis creates the man he’s been seen as, increasing the sales numbers for all his books and increasing his presence in the publishing house, but all of this at the price of presenting himself as everything he has been typed as—the drug-addled narcissistic nihilist, amongst others.

Ellis’s status as a “moralist,” a self-imposed typecasting, I believe, is something I have to look at through the lens of Kundera’s issues with the preaching novelist. A book like American Psycho cannot be about Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe in the film) tracking down Patrick Bateman, because presenting such a book would be presenting a specific view. It is easy to write from your own perspective. It seems to me that Ellis has always avoided this and ironically been seen as everything he’s tried to expose. The zombie-lazy boy who cannot do the right thing even when he is faced with the darkest of evils; the college students who simply move onto the next bed, the next fix, the next abortion, or suicide; the serial killer suit of a man; the idiot male model pawn of terrorism; Ellis himself…

The change is a bit jarring, but this is an artist taking control of his art. Realizing that he was upset with the continual comparison between his books and his life—a situation only further complicated by his own view of the books as his way of autobiography—he creates a book that cannot be interpreted unless you are willing to deal with the question of who writer Bret is and who the character Bret is. And all of this was only a secondhand decision, because he had wanted to write a book about a writer, had begun outlining it, and this guy wasn’t named Bret Easton Ellis.

Writing is the connecting of various data, as Warren Ellis would have it (it’s always a problem when I talk mainly about one of the two Ellis-writers that I’d cite as influences; because of the vast amount of boring allusion in my art, I find that I’m always bringing the other one up with his unfortunately similar name). Bret, who is, like, it would seem, most people, somewhat of a Stephen King fan. Faced with the issue of writing a book about himself that would force the audience to consider the fact that the narrator of a book is simply a fictional self, it would seem only logical to make the novel supremely fictional. Perhaps the perfect genre for this is horror, so Lunar Park transitions from a Roth-ian author as fictional character story into a King-style terror-flick.

One would imagine that all of this tension built into Lunar Park, behind the scenes of the plot of and the actual existence of the novel itself, would have a very small half-life, not being allowed to live to see Ellis’s next book. Considering the long distance between his tomes, this seemed very likely. But Imperial Bedrooms does not stem away from this issue.

The general response to media onslaught is “call me what you want;” I am reminded, perhaps ironically, of Britney Spears’s “If You Seek Amy” and its own jokes to be made at the expense of those that dislike her. In Imperial Bedrooms, we have the list of last names added to characters from a book written twenty-five years ago. We have a new character, the writer, who can only be seen as Ellis in the readers’ eyes. But this is not the only author-character to be presented.

The mention of the last names is in reference to Clay’s, which became Easton, possibly during the creation of the Less than Zero movie. Wherever Clay became Easton, Ellis surely paints the portrait of the character as the writer throughout Imperial Bedrooms. He’s a screenwriter; Ellis is writing more screenplays than books these days; he lives in a condo similar to Ellis’s own…This list can go on and on and is not original to me, but is taken partially from an interview between Ellis and Jesse Katz, about Imperial Bedrooms.

But I don’t need to simply end here with another stolen point, because I have another idea to postulate: what is perhaps the most fun thing about Imperial Bedrooms, is that Clay Easton is not so much Ellis as the anti-Ellis, the Darth Vader to his Anakin, everything he is not, yet somehow stemming from a similar, if not identical source.

Clay’s a successful screenwriter; Ellis’s major film that actually got made is The Informers, a train-wreck adaptation of his 1994 short story collection. This particular thread runs deeper, because Clay is the writer/producer of a movie of his own, The Listeners, which is an apparent joke at Ellis’s own expense. The Informers was supposed to include a character from the chapter of the collection called “The Secrets of Summer,” about Jamie, who is, or thinks he is, a vampire. The studio ended up cutting out this idea, even after Brandon Routh was cast. The studio ended up making a lot of odd decisions like that—the director then made a film that didn’t make jokes, which apparently was not Ellis’s intention.

Reading interviews with Ellis about the movie could easily be taken as simply the little boy running to his room after fucking something up, before the parent could get mad at him. But this isn’t especially important in Imperial Bedrooms. Clay has a conversation with Julian (Robert Downey Jr.’s character in the film) about The Listeners fairly early in the book; he’s dismissive of it as just another film, but it matters to Julian, who used to be his good friend. It has a vampire in it, Clay muses to lessen the meaning that the movie should have for anyone. At first it seems to be another joke along the line fact and fiction. But take a step back and look again.

The Listeners has a vampire, where The Informers did not. Bret has taken the opportunity to split himself from Clay, here, and what better way to do it then to open the book by saying that Clay did not write Less than Zero, that in fact someone else had. He creates himself fictionally to first approach this question and follows it by making his own fictional creation expunge the rest of the whole mess.

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