Book Article

American Psychodrama

The ''American Psycho'' drama -- Why Bret Easton Ellis' new novel is having such a hard time coming out

American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis' controversial new novel about a yuppie serial murderer, refuses to die. Earlier this month, Simon & Schuster CEO Dick Snyder pulled the plug on the book, citing aesthetic differences over what critics had termed its violent and women-hating content. But two days later, Vintage Books resurrected the novel and now plans to distribute it as a paperback. Said Vintage president Sonny Mehta, ''It seems to me appropriate, given the immense coverage and curiosity about Mr. Ellis' new book, that we bring out American Psycho in original trade paperback edition, to swiftly reach the widest possible readership.''

Prior to the S&S decision to dump the novel, Ellis' editor at the house, Robert Asahina, had staunchly defended Psycho's content. ''Obviously if you're writing about a psychopathic killer,'' he said, ''there are going to be disturbing passages.'' Some, however, found the novel's graphic descriptions of sadism, murder, and the sexual mutilation of women inexcusable. Female staffers at Simon & Schuster were outraged. Penguin, which published paperback versions of Ellis' earlier books, relinquished its first rights to this one. George Corsillo, who designed the jackets for Ellis' previous novels, turned down Psycho, citing creative differences. Even Spy magazine attacked the book as ''misogynistic barbarism.'' Will Mehta edit out some of the more offensive passages? Psycho will go through the ''customary editing process'' at Vintage, says spokesman William Loverd. ''Both Mr. Ellis and Mr. Mehta have indicated that they don't anticipate significant changes.'' And the two versions are sure to be compared. Whatever the alterations, Ellis has cause to celebrate, having already picked up prepublication profits of rather more than zero. He received a $300,000 advance from S&S for Psycho that he gets to keep, and his new deal with Vintage reportedly paid an additional $350,000.

Originally posted Nov 30, 1990 Published in issue #42 Nov 30, 1990 Order article reprints