Dang, can that Bret Easton Ellis drop names. Nary a sentence in his new novel, ”Glamorama,” escapes without a cameo from someone famous, quasi-famous, or formerly famous. In fact, in some sentences, Ellis cuts out those pesky nouns and verbs and simply lists celebrities: “…Vanessa Williams, Larry Clark, Rob Morrow, Robin Wright, Jennifer Connelly, RuPaul…” And on and on. It’s like reading Page Six of the New York Post, but for 482 pages.
”Glamorama” takes aim at the mindless, gossip-driven culture of celebrity (which happens to put food on my table, so I, for one, ain’t complaining). Seems the glitterati are the satirical target du jour, what with Woody Allen’s limp, oral-sex-filled film ”Celebrity,” and Jay McInerney’s clever novel ”Model Behavior.”
So how does Ellis’ effort stack up? Not too terribly – for the first 189 pages. We meet our hero, Victor, a gleefully superficial male model. He crunches his abs, schmoozes at New York’s Bowery Bar, gobbles Xanax, creates guest lists for nightclub openings, pleads with his agent to get him a part in ”Flatliners II,” and cheats on his supermodel girlfriend with two other gorgeous women. There’s no real plot in this part of the book, and Victor isn’t exactly a sympathetic protagonist (in his own way, he’s as morally bankrupt as ”American Psycho”’s serial killer, Patrick Bateman), but if you want a breezy, sometimes funny primer on late-’90s celeb culture, this is a good place to start. I learned, for instance, that R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe has a hernia scar.
In these early pages, Ellis shows flashes of cleverness we haven’t seen since ”Less Than Zero.” But then, on page 190, ”Glamorama” takes a bizarre turn. Victor boards the QE2 for London, and all of a sudden we’re swept into a ludicrous thriller: Think Vogue meets ”Lethal Weapon 4” meets Liz Smith. Our hero becomes enmeshed in a terrorist group headed by a former male model. A hotel is bombed, a diplomat’s son is castrated, workouts are done, makeup applied. The overly complicated plot drags on and on, eventually becoming nearly as exhausting as an after-hours party at Moomba.
Worse, Ellis weaves another conceit into part 2: Throughout the ordeal, Victor is being filmed by a mysterious camera crew. Okay, we get it: Modern life has become a movie (a point made more cogently by Neal Gabler’s new book, ”Life the Movie”). It’s all so meta. But in the end, it’s also distracting and payoff-free. Thankfully, Ellis continues to drop names to keep us mildly interested. Consider this sentence fragment from one of the last pages: ”Oliver Stone, Bill Maher, Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, Grace Slick, Noah Wyle, Mary Tyler Moore.” You get the idea.