THESE days I am digging into Imperial Bedrooms, the sequel of sorts to Less Than Zero, one of the most famous and at least initially controversial novels ever written about Los Angeles.
It makes me think back to the stories I've written on Ellis over the years and our conversations about literature, fame, the heartlessness of Hollywood and the records of Elvis Costello. Here is the most extensive of those stories, an LA Times Sunday story.
I kick it off this way:
In his 1985 breakout novel, "Less Than Zero," Bret Easton Ellis, then all of 21 years old, created young, jaded Angelenos who just didn't care about anything: They recounted cocaine scores and semi-anonymous sex in the same tone with which they lamented their fading suntans. That ennui became Ellis' literary signature, and as he began to grow up in public, he became known as a photogenic and glamorous figure who liked booze and excess.
Most of the piece looks at a critical groundswell around this often dissed and neglected novelist: writers and critics including Jonathan Lethem, A.O. Scott and Alex Ross have argued that he is a more profound and complicated figure than he is usually taken as.
Many see him as an overlooked figure, one whose literary heft grows with time. It may be that like a lot of things that emerge from California, the style and vision of Ellis' work creates problems for East Coast intellectuals, but will become as enduring as psychedelia, surfing, the hard-boiled novel or fast food.
The new novel is very dark indeed, with a murder mystery plot, and shows the characters from Less Than Zero and their city grown grimmer and meaner. Ellis has several appearances coming up and I will keep readers of The Misread City alerted to them. The novel pubs on Tuesday June 15.
Notable Chicago: 7/21–7/27
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