Bret Easton Ellis writes bloody books. His notorious novel “American Psycho” features Patrick Bateman, one of literature’s most memorable serial killers, and was famously cancelled by Simon & Schuster just months before it was due to be sent to the printers, citing “aesthetic differences over what critics had termed its violent and women-hating content.”
It was certainly not the author’s only brush with the macabre. About the only thing that excites his disaffected characters in “Less Than Zero” is a snuff film; “Glamorama” includes a gang of models turned terrorists. And “The Informers” includes murder and suicide, castration and corpse mutilation, and the drinking of blood during sex.
“The Shards” is Ellis’ latest novel, what he calls a “fictional memoir” of his last year in high school. The book is set in 1980s Los Angeles, all BMW sedans and Wayfarer sunglasses, New Wave music and popped collars. Its protagonist is “Bret,” a senior at The Buckley School, who’s writing something called “Less Than Zero” — Ellis’ real name, high school and audacious debut, of course. Against this backdrop of parties and privilege, a serial killer called The Trawler is stalking Los Angeles. A statue on the Buckley campus is defaced, festooned with the decapitated heads of fish from the school koi pond. Neighborhood pets go missing before their mutilated corpses show up again. Women start disappearing before their bodies are found, horribly disfigured.
“Bret” spends his time in a soulless cycle of guzzling vodka, popping Valiums, and having sex with whichever of his stunning classmates (boy or girl) is in the mood. All the jaded students exist behind impenetrable facades. When a photographer aimed a camera at them, “Bret” says, “no one really posed — because we were already posing.”
Soon Buckley’s students themselves begin to be attacked and killed. “Bret” becomes obsessed by the crime spree and who-dun-it. Is it Buckley’s Buckley’s own unbearably handsome new student, Robert Mallory, who seems to be lying about his past? The people who worship at the altar of Mallory’s beauty? Or someone even closer to the narrator? “It wasn’t you, right?” a classmate asked “Bret” some years later at a book signing for Less Than Zero.
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