As many of you know, I’ve been performing in a Broadway production of one of John Steinbeck’s best-known works, Of Mice and Men, which is why I’m writing about one of his lesser-read works, In Dubious Battle, a novel that is part of Steinbeck’s migrant-worker trilogy set during the Great Depression.
We talked to Bret Easton Ellis about American Psycho, his possible Kanye collaboration, American Psycho, his upcoming book, and why he thinks our generation is a bunch of cry-babies.
Bret Easton Ellis Says We’re All a Bunch of Cry-Babies
Bret Easton Ellis has only got to open his mouth for the cry-babies of the world to crawl out and start berating him for being a morally depraved chancer. Back in the 80s and 90s, you could sympathise with people getting offended by his books if they hadn’t spent much time around hedge-fund managers or fashion world dickheads. If they had, they’d realize thatAmerican Psycho and Glamorama are in essence works of journalism—dressed up in Valentino and splattered with blood, yes, but documentaries of a certain moment in history all the same. “The six or seven books add up as a sort of autobiography,” he says. “When I look at them I think, ‘Oh, that’s where I was in ’91. That’s where I was in ’88. Okay, I got it.’”
Now he has moved into film, as well as writing screenplays for TV and delivering his own weekly podcast. Which, among other highlights, has featured Kanye West and Marilyn Manson. Yet still he has repeatedly faced accusations of “douchery” from bloggers and a general outcry every time he criticizes anything on Twitter.
When I called his house in LA last week, Bret talked passionately about his frustration with what he’s dubbed “Generation Wuss”—you, me, everyone else who’s young, hyper-sensitive and grown up with the internet, basically. Over the course of a few hours, I was genuinely impressed by the amount of interest he takes in the lives of people who’ve grown up reading his books, the technology they use and the way they consume culture. His annoyance seems to come from a place of concern rather than misanthropy.
So, why all the pant-wetting?
VICE: Why have you termed me and my contemporaries “Generation Wuss”?
Bret Easton Ellis: You have to understand that I’m coming to these things as a member of the most pessimistic and ironic generation that has ever roamed the earth. When I hear millennials getting hurt by “cyber bullying”, or it being a gateway to suicide, it’s difficult for me to process. A little less so for my boyfriend, who happens to be a millennial of that age, but even he somewhat agrees with the sensitivity of Generation Wuss. It’s very difficult for them to take criticism, and because of that a lot of the content produced is kind of shitty. And when someone is criticized for their content, they seem to collapse, or the person criticizing them is called a hater, a contrarian, a troll.
In a way it’s down to the generation that raised them, who cocooned them in praise—four stars for showing up, you know? But eventually everyone has to hit the dark side of life; someone doesn’t like you, someone doesn’t like your work, someone doesn’t love you back… people die. What we have is a generation who are super-confident and super-positive about things, but when the least bit of darkness enters their lives, they’re paralyzed.
I realized the other day that I’m around the same age as Patrick Bateman. His existence was fairly typical of a 27-year-old living in New York at the time you wroteAmerican Psycho, but it couldn’t be further away from my reality.
Not to reference the 27-year-old [Bret’s boyfriend] too often, but he would completely agree with you. American Psycho is about a world that is as alien to him as Saturn.
I think it was a world we were promised, though.
There was a certain point where we realized the promises were lies and that we were going to be economically adrift. It’s the fault of the baby boomer generation for raising their kids at the highest peak of the empire, in a complete fantasy world. My generation, Gen X, realized that, like most fantasies, it was somewhat dissatisfying, and we rebelled with irony, negativity and attitude because we had the luxury to do that. Our reality wasn’t an economic hardship.
[Editor’s note: I met Paul a few months ago at a storytelling event, but he’s done some stuff for VICE in the past. He’s one of those smiley, overly posi Florida punks who’s covered in tattoos and is really nice to everybody, so I initially assumed he’d never been in “the shit.” Then he told me a story about being held up at gunpoint by Brazilian thugs in a botched bus robbery, and that shut me up pretty quickly. He just sent us this dispatch from a recent book tour for And Every Day Was Overcast, his terrific new photo novel about growing up among fishing tackle and drugs in Loxahatchee, Florida. If you’ve ever been on a book tour, you’ll know it’s more about wine and cheese and bad drugs, so kudos to Paul for pushing himself to the limit for this mind-numbingly boring responsibility. Enjoy!]
Rainelle, West Virginia
Kelly tries to Instagram a butterfly caught in the wipers. As she’s about to click, I spray the windshield with fluid. It’ll buy me another hour of silence. I’m driving from New York to Minneapolis for the start of my book tour, but the first stop is in West Virginia, to leave Kelly at her aunt’s.
I like people who know when to lower their standards. Kelly is the type of girl who helps pay for gas with rolled-up $20s flattened against her ass. Back in New York, we had sex one time and never again. She said my hands were too cold, that it was gross that I sleep with my socks on.
Today, we’re mutually parasitic. On occasion, when all our friends are estranged, we relapse on one another. There’s no common circle of friends between us, so whatever we do together has no repercussions.
Road trips are the ultimate test of any friendship. I’m relieved to drop her off.
Tonight, I’m staying at a nicotine-themed hotel room in Rainelle. The smell matches the shag. All night I watch the only working channel, ID: Investigation Discovery. An entire network of true-crime entertainment exclusively made up of lurid reenactments, courtroom footage, 911 calls, pan-and-scan video technology, crime-scene photography, ghoulish hosts, news clips, dubious interviews, home video, and family albums full of mementos. Back in the 90s, the prototype for these shows was America’s Most Wanted. It was my childhood filter for the social topography of Florida—as a series of grainy amateur porn stills and mug shots.
Charles Bukowski Wouldn’t Have Gotten Drunk at a Bukowski-Themed Bar
Charles Bukowski was a drunk. Not just a drunk, but the drunk. Nearly two decades after his death, he remains the patron saint of drunks. That being the case, naming a bar after him makes sense. It’s been done, many times, before: New York City, Glasgow, Boston and Amsterdam all possess watering hole homages to the alpha male author. Santa Monica’s week-old Barkowski can now be added to that list.
The deification of Bukowski, and other tortured, inebriated artists of his ilk, is a task best undertaken by those who have not experienced actual suffering. There is no better place to find said demographic than Santa Monica, California, a bourgeoisie beachside burg more well-known for its outdoor shopping mall than its self-destructive poet population. According to Barkowski’s website, its namesake’s “writing was influenced by the social, cultural and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles.” Santa Monica is not Los Angeles. Los Angeles, or at least Bukowski’s Los Angeles, is where you go when you want to drink $3 draft beers surrounded by human detritus. Santa Monica, however, is where you go when you want to pay $9 for a poorly poured, half-filled glass of Chimay. Barkowski sells poorly poured, half-filled $9 glasses of Chimay.
Barkowski’s interior is essentially the same as that of its predecessor, the Air Conditioned Lounge; nothing has been done to alter its nondescriptly modern black and red color scheme and padded leather walls. Enormous glamour shots of Buk’ drinking and gazing into the distance, alongside framed printouts of trite quotes about women and incarceration, are the only things that differentiate the new bar from the old. In one photo, he’s shown cradling a Schlitz tall boy; in the interest of synergy, Schlitz tall boys are available at the bar. For $7. If Schlitzes were $7 in Bukowski’s day, he wouldn’t have been able to afford a drinking problem, and Barkowski would have a decidedly different theme (“Papa y Beer Hemingway’s,” perhaps?). When it came to preserving the authenticity of the Bukowski theme, $7 Schlitzes and the “A” health rating sign hanging above the bar were but two of a myriad inaccuracies.
Why Walt Whitman Was the Original Kanye West, According to James Franco
In this age of social media, self-promotion is the name of the game. We all have our little avatars, our little pictures and texts that we put out into the electronic world, that we hope get “liked.” Walt Whitman too was a self promoter, a performer, a purveyor of self.
“I exist as I am, that is enough,” says Whitman in the 1855 version of “Song of Myself,”
If no other in the world be aware I sit content
And if each and all be aware I sit content (“Song of Myself,” 46)
These enlightened sentiments are typical of Whitman in thisr first edition of Leaves of Grass, but these renunciations of investment in fame are not wholly true. Whitman’s actions show that he decidedly did care if readers were aware of him. After the initial publication of Leaves of Grass, a run of 800 copies, he wrote at least three anonymous reviews, both touting and criticizing but ultimately publicizing in the boldest kind of language his own work. The following quote from an articlehe he wrote for the United States Review in 1855 called “Walt Whitman and his Poems” shows another view Whitman had of himself:
Who then is that insolent unknown? Who is it, praising himself as if others were not fit to do it, and coming rough and unbidden among writers to unsettle what was settled, and to revolutionize in fact our modern civilizations? … You have come in good time, Walt Whitman! In opinions, in manners, in costumes, in books, in the aims and occupancy of life, in associates, in poems. (“Walt Whitman and his Poems,” Whitman)
All the Books Blake Butler Read This Year
A Day in the Strait by Emmanuel Hocquard
The Obscene Madame D by Hilda Hilst
A close friend of one of my favorites, Clarice Lispector, Hilst isn’t a far cry from the fragmentary, mutative mindset of that relation. This brief 57-page meta-monologue is stuffed to the gills with ideas of madness from a mind you actually want to see run rampant. It gushes in a somehow more intimate and raving Beckett-ian mode. I wish there were a shitload of little shattering novellas like this everywhere, available in gas stations, as a drug.
The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe
Prostitution by Pierre Guyotat
The Use of Speech by Nathalie Sarraute
The Box Man by Kobo Abe
Reflections by Mark Insingel
The Moon’s Jaw by Rauan Klassnik
Tenth of December by George Saunders
Red Doc > by Anne Carson
Three by Ann Quin
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Castle to Castle by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Taipei by Tao Lin
No disappointment after the hype for this new novel from someone whom I’ve always looked to as an icon just ahead of the curve. Taipei takes everything Tao Lin was always astounding at—intricately bizarre observations of social contexts and the moment-to-moment shades of one’s emotions—to a newly effective depth. The book holds nothing back, fusing Wallace-sized sentence structures with Tao’s masterful minimalism, while somehow managing to infuse the mutative energy of the internet in what may end up being the most open look at the inner workings of a young person in whatever social era we’re currently trapped in.
The Face of Another by Kobo Abe
The Book Report, by Leigh Stein
Image art by Alex Cook
The Book Report is a series that promises to deliver exactly what it promises: reports on books by the people who’ve read them. Catch evenings of live, in-person Book Reports that will remind you of the third grade in the best possible way with hosts Leigh Stein and Sasha Fletcher every month at The Gallery at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street in New York. The next one is December 10, and you should go.
Very premium literary masterwork Super Sad True Love Story begins in Italy, a beautiful place I have never seen, which is good way to start novel because it says, Reader, I have seen beautiful things and now I will tell you about them.
I learned a lot about Italian romance in this story. For example, in Italy, a woman with name of Eunice can be object of sexual desire. Also, in Italy, eating rabbit is prelude to semiconsensual oral sex. Most important thing I learn is this: I never knew what super sad, true love was until I meet Mr. Gary Shteyngart himself.
“I hear New York writer interviewed on NPR,” Mother told me, when I was home in Chicago. “He is Jewish and teaches at Columbia University?”
“Mr. Gary Shteyngart?” I inquired, hopefully.
“Very funny man. Have you met him?”
“No,” I said, thinking how ridiculous it would be to become proximal with famous writer.
"I got a feeling you two are together and you’re keepin’ it a secret”
"Thank You" – New Fiction by Alejandro Zambra
Alejandro Zambra is one of our favorite living writers. His first book, Bonsai, won the Chilean Critics’ Award for Best Novel of the Year in 2006. We first read his work when Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Ways of Going Home in 2013. What distinguishes Alejandro from his contemporaries is the sweetness and intimacy of his writing, and his confidence in letting himself be as he is. As you read his work, there’s never the impression that he is second-guessing himself, thinking, “So-and-so would do it this way,” or “Such-and-such editor would say that.” He exhibits this remarkable confidence on the page, one that allows him to be himself and to speak, a special kind of generosity. It feels like knowing and speaking to a sweetheart—it never feels like he’s an author who pretends, or tries to teach, or falls into egotistical traps. Flaws in writing often come from flaws in character. Alejandro doesn’t seem to have any of those. He’s just a lovely, special, strange person who seems to look at his actual world and describe it in his actual, natural voice, and he leaves it at that. He has the authority that J. M. Coetzee, V. S. Naipaul, and Bret Easton Ellis have all identified as the writer’s bedrock.
“I got a feeling you two are together and you’re keepin’ it a secret”—“No we’re not,” they answer in unison, and it’s the truth: for a little over a month now they’ve been sleeping together, they eat, read, and work together, so that someone with a tendency to exaggerate, someone who watched them and carefully parsed the words they say to each other, the way their bodies move closer to each other and entwine—a brash person, someone who still believed in these sorts of things, would say they really loved each other, or that at least they shared a dangerous and generous passion; and yet they are not together, if there is one thing they are very clear about it is precisely this, that they are not together. She is Argentine and he’s Chilean, and it’s much better to refer to them like that, the Argentine woman, the Chilean man.
They’d planned on walking, they’d talked about how nice it is to go long distances on foot, and they even reached the point where they were dividing people into two groups: those who never walk long distances and those who do, and who they believe are, because of that, better. They’d planned on walking, but on a whim they hailed a taxi, and they had known for months, even before they’d arrived in Mexico City, when they’d received a set of instructions that was full of warnings, that they should never hail a taxi in the street, and up till then it had never occurred to them to hail a taxi in the street, but this time, on a whim, they did it, and soon she thought the driver was going the wrong way and she said as much to the Chilean in a whispered voice, and he reassured her out loud, but his words didn’t even get to take effect because right away the taxi stopped and two men got in and the Chilean reacted valiantly, recklessly, confusedly, childishly, stupidly: he punched one of the bandits in the nose, and he went on struggling for long seconds while she shouted, Stop it, stop it, stop it. The Chilean stopped, and the bandits let him have it, they showed him no mercy, they may have even broken something, but this all happened long ago, a good ten minutes ago. By now they’ve already given up their money and their credit cards and they’ve already recited their ATM PIN numbers and there’s only a little time left that to them seems like an eternity, during which they ride with their eyes squeezed shut, “Shut your eyes, pinches cabrones,” the two men tell them.