American psycho by Bret Easton Ellis published in 1991 and in Italy in 2001 for Einaudi, is it a beautiful novel? I don’t know, you may like it. What is certain is that an important novel. Disturbing and dangerous, which puts much of the Western cultural apparatus at stake and in doubt from the presocratic to the present day. It is for this reason that the author’s publisher French refused for years to translate it and that in Italy it came out years later, not to mention the film version released only in 2000 directed by Mary Harron, despite the success of the novel and with significant cuts of the strongest scenes.
Gender is already difficult to define. Thriller would be said right away, but in reality a thriller or a noir is not; there are no investigations, there is no police or detective or some ingenious psychoanalyst to investigate, in fact there is no investigation. The psychopath, yes, is present.
Patrick Bateman is the stereotype of the New York yuppie of the mid-80s of the last century, graduated from Harvard, with a prestigious job on Wall Street and the inevitable beautiful rich and a little, a little very frivolous girlfriend. He too is quite superficial like all his friends, more or less friends, around him. His life, in addition to the work that does not have a fundamental role in the novel, is marked by the obsession with fashion, the designer garments of which he recognizes the designer at first glance, the exclusive gym, the Evian water of which he drinks twenty liters a day (and those who do not remember young women and men with the bottle of water from a liter and a half following also in Via Brera in Milan in those years) , pornographic or violent videotapes, television show Patty Winters Show and sex, alcohol and cocaine consumed in Manhatan’s most exclusive venues. Nothing too new and already described, however in a much more masterful way, by Jay McInerney a few years earlier in that masterpiece that is The Thousand Lights of New York.
But there’s a difference. The protagonist of American psycho is a psychopathic serial killer who in the evening, bored with routine, enjoys tearing, drilling, nailing and with all other kinds of brutal practice of torture expensive escorts, girls boarded in luxurious premises, bums, competitors at work, friends, in his luxurious apartment and for no specific reason. And so far nothing exceptional, except that, everything appears described in absolute normality and with decidedly politically incorrect tones and vocabulary, in short, things, people, categories etc. are called as by the prevailing culture not spoiled by hypocritical scruples defines them, without euphemisms or turns of words. And this is precisely the “danger” of this novel.
In a thriller we say normal, for example in those of James Ellroy, however truculent, the serial killer is immediately characterized within the plot as the one who places itself outside a certain socially acquired logic and for this reason in opposition to the police. In short, there is the eternal struggle between good and evil, one of the dichotomies that have governed Western culture and not only, one might say, since its inception. In Ellis’ novel, criminal actions, vivisements, preservation of anatomical finds, and even cannibalism are given to the reader in a completely neutral, aseptic way, and without even the pleasure of violence for its own sake. There is nowhere, in any narrative place, any condemnation or distance from the author against the murderer who, by the way, will not be arrested by the police, who as mentioned does not even appear, but everything results in an absolute “normality”; Patrick Bateman, in the finale of the novel, calmly discusses with friends which restaurant to choose for the evening, Harry’s, in which he enters happy to be there and to be who he is. There is in this novel a total rejection of moralism and any ethical stance, the killer’s point of view is that and that remains.
It is not a small thing, and in fact it has given and bothers, in a world where everything must be politically correct, even at the cost of distorting the sense of things, language, reality. Managers, journalists who lose their jobs for a term deemed offensive, artists who are isolated for their work, as in the case of the Chapman brothers accused of paedophilia porn, to extremes that take on a tone of worrying comedy, as in the recent case when a book of the stature of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, for many of us traveling companion in youth, has been republished in the United States (mind you republished in the original language, untranslated, which at the very least could justify a certain freedom) replacing throughout the novel the word niger with black or slave, raping the original text, even considering that at the time the term was written it had no derogatory meaning as nègre in French or negro in Italian, and indeed in the period of decolinization, the term was claimed by the civil rights movements of African Americans, as well as by african liberation movements, as also stated in the texts of the Senegalese poet and political leader Léopolod Sédar Senghor, among other things the country’s first president after liberation, as a symbol of Senegal’s cultural rebirth, adopting the explicit term of negritude.
In conclusion, is American psyco a book to read? Once again I do not know what to say, perhaps yes, if one has a strong stomach to hold certain truly gruesome scenes and, above all, the willingness to see the world differently from how certain powers, cultural and not, want it to be seen.