Bret Easton Ellis’ last book, Lunar Park, began with the author bemoaning the bloated nature of his recent prose. He expressed a desire to return to the brevity of his debut, 1985’s Less Than Zero, which detailed the drug-taking and sex-having of some well-heeled college-age friends. In fact, Lunar Park, though brilliant, was anything but succinct. Had Ellis lost the ability to write in the manner that made him famous? The question is answered in Imperial Bedrooms, the present-day-set sequel to Less Than Zero.
In fact, this book revisits the territory of Ellis’ debut in almost every imaginable way, from its clipped writing style, to its L.A. locale, to its Elvis Costello-referencing title, to its returning characters. The familiar faces include narrator Clay (now a screenwriter), his ex-girlfriend Blair, and the sinister Rip. The big difference between the books is that Ellis connects his vignettes with an actual plot, one whose debt to Raymond Chandler is obvious and acknowledged (the book opens with a quote from The Long Goodbye). As with Chandler’s work, the details of the twists and turns are beside the point — particularly since Ellis puckishly reveals at the start which character is going to wind up as a corpse in a Tom Ford suit. But the author uses the thriller framework to infuse nerve-rending unease into this look at Tinseltown mores, a dissection that also comes nicely weighted with both bleak hilarity and firsthand authorial experience. Any similarity between the name of Clay’s screenplay The Listeners and that of Ellis’ recently movie-fied book The Informers is surely not coincidental.
You can understand why Ellis stole the title of Costello’s most sexually evocative album for Imperial Bedrooms; there is certainly no shortage of boudoir-set drama. Yet he would have been justified in calling it My Aim Is True. This sequel is very much on target. A?