Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Glam Stand

By Ray Pride

FEBRUARY 1, 1999: 

Glamorama Bret Easton Ellis, Knopf, $25, 281 pages

There are startling passages in Bret Easton Ellis' fattest new book, "Glamorama," and stultifying ones, suffocating ones as well. This does not seem unintentional.

For a good third of the way, his story of Victor Ward (who first popped up in Ellis' "The Rules of Attraction"), a too-handsome, too-superficial young man for whom New York exists as much in his mind as a Rolodex of celebrity as on the streets and in the clubs and in the restaurants and in the beds of those among whom he drops names or Xanax or clues to his dissolving personality. Many of the pages have the effect of an explosion at a newsstand, finding oneself flocked in glam faces, glib goings-on, bodily fluids. Victor's narrative voice is a litany; pages of the shouldn't-be-famous he encounters cry out for blinding black puddles of bloodface.

For a sweet, blinding moment, Ellis seems to have earned his Didion-DeLillo bade of artful affectlessness. A sample sentence, bland amid the torrent of deadpan:

"Zigzaggin toward Chemical Bank by the new Gap it's a Wednesday but outside feels Mondayish and the city looks vaguely unreal, there's a sky like from October 1973 or something hanging over it and right now at 5:30 this is Manhattan as Loud Place: jackhammers, horns, sirens, breaking glass, recycling trucks, whistles, booming bass from the new Ice Cube, unwanted sound trailing behind me as I wheel my Vespa into the bank, joining the line at the automated teller, most of it made up of Orientals glaring at me as they move aside, a couple of them leaning forward, whispering to each other."
Things explode. Ellis cherishes the debris. A terrific page-turner motors along. Then ambition, in the form of a reality-vs.-fiction gimmick kicks in; one pores through for pages in high hopes of redemption. However, Ellis diminishes his set-up and only intermittently pulls off the illusion of the madness in Victor's head as if it is he himself hurtling across Europe, hustled through a film shoot for a story about designer terrorists. The prose still startles, its impact heightened by the dry cadence of the over-the-top events, of sex, of violence, of morality.

Ellis can be frighteningly good; a delicious, sinister read. But the quality of Ellis' prose and his ambition make the diamond-hard, hard-hearted cruelties tossed off in "American Psycho" more defensible to those who took that book as an outrage. We are left in the celeb-studded Manhattan, where everything is comped to the well-off, the notorious, the merely famed.

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