Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis. Knopf, 2005; $24.95; 308 pages.
FROM THE DUST JACKET:
Imagine becoming a bestselling novelist, and almost immediately famous and wealthy, while still in college, and before long seeing your insufferable father reduced to a bag of ashes in a safe-deposit box, while after American Psycho your celebrity drowns in a sea of vilification, booze, and drugs. Then imagine having a second chance ten years later, as the Bret Easton Ellis of this remarkable novel is given, with a wife, children, and suburban sobriety -- only to watch this new life shatter beyond recognition in a matter of days. At a fateful Halloween party he glimpses a disturbing (fictional) character driving a car identical to his late father's, his stepdaughter's doll violently "malfunctions," and their house undergoes bizarre transformations both within and without. Connecting these aberrations to graver events -- a series of grotesque murders that no longer seem random and the epidemic disappearance of boys his son's age -- Ellis struggles to defend his family against this escalating menace even as his wife, their therapists, and the police insist that his apprehensions are rooted instead in substance abuse and egomania.
Lunar Park confounds one expectation after another, passing through comedy and mounting horror, both psychological and supernatural, toward an astonishing resolution -- about love and loss, fathers and sons -- in what is surely the most powerfully original and deeply moving novel of an extraordinary career.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
From Publishers Weekly: Having ridden to fame as the laureate of Reagan-era excesses, Ellis serves up a self-eviscerating apologia for all the awful things (wanton drug use, reckless promiscuity, serial murder) he worked so hard to glamorize.... As a novel by anyone else, Lunar Park would be hokum, but in context, it is a fascinating look at a once controversial celebrity as a middle-aged man.
From The Village Voice: Lunar Parkis a ghost story and a Charlie Kaufman showdown between the writer and his everyday self, written under Philip Roth's influence and as homage to childhood hero Stephen King.... Sentence for sentence, Lunar Park has some of Ellis's best writing, especially the tour de force elegy closing out the novel.
From The Washington Post's Book World:Lunar Park is often very funny, particularly when detailing Bret's latest self-referential, misogynist writing project, the title of which I can't quote in a family newspaper.... Ellis also evokes with nightmarish clarity a certain kind of upper-middle-class life, where all the children are Ritalin-dependent and even the family golden retriever is on Prozac.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Bret Easton Ellis, born in 1964 and raised in Los Angeles, was a student at Bennington College in Vermont. There he wrote his first published novel, Less Than Zero, as an assignment for a creative writing class. The novel was published in 1985 and Bret Easton Ellis became a "name," and that name joined a list of bad boy and girl authors, a "literary brat pick," among whom were Jay McInerny and Tama Janowitz. Simon and Schuster wrote out a check for $300,000 as advance for Ellis's third novel, American Psycho. So violent was the book considered and so anti-female that female editors at S&S protested its publication. The book was delisted. Vintage, an arm of Knopf, bought out the contract and published the novel. Ellis is the author of five novels and a collection of stories, which have been translated into 27 languages. He divides his time between Los Angeles and New York City.
A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR:
Mr. Ellis was at home in California, as was I, on the day that we talked. I had asked what he was reading. He answered, saying, "It's harder for me to find things that I like than it used to be. I'm pickier. I know people who will read books even if they're not into them -- I can't do it. I've got to like a book to finish it. So, I do toss books aside after 40 or 50 pages. 'I get where you're going -- I'm not going to be on this train. I'm getting off on this ride.'" Ellis said that interviews could be difficult for him. "The questions that I'm terrible about answering are questions that have to do with explaining my book. I'm fine with other questions, but in terms of, like, 'Why is this here? Why did you do this? I'm lame. You can give it a shot."
"Let me give it a shot. It seemed that part of what the book was about is being an author, what it is to be a writer."
"That's exactly what it's about. It is about the creative process, and it is about what it means to be a writer, and what it means to be sitting in a room all day creating fictions. And what does that do to a person? What kind of person is that?
"When I first had the idea for this book in 1989, I wanted to write a ghost story. I don't even think the narrator was a writer at that point. He was working in politics as a speechwriter. When I finally sat down to Lunar Park in the summer of 2000, he'd become a writer. But that happened about midway through."
As to how Mr. Ellis happened to lend his own name to his narrator: "This material ultimately was so personal that I thought, 'Why don't you just go off -- make him you. There are so many similarities already -- just make this character you. Just name him you in fact, and use the books from your past.'
"But pretty much the structure of the book and what the book was about was about 80 percent there in '89. Things that changed were obviously the death of my father, which happened in '92, and so the ghost of the father started to announce itself more often in this outline that I was creating, and also American Psycho, which was something that came out of the blue in terms of the controversy and the scandal and its success. Ultimately I resented its success, I resented the fact that it's my most popular novel, I resented the fact that Patrick Bateman [in American Psycho] became this iconic figure and that began to play a part in Lunar Park. I started to think, 'Well, God, what happens when you create something that becomes a Frankenstein monster?' And how does a writer deal with that?