Saturday, 14 May 2011

"The Informers" by Bret Easton Ellis

Year of Publication: 1994
Number of Pages: 262 pages
Genre: Fiction, satire, horror, crime, short stories

Summary: This is a collection of thirteen loosely linked stories set mostly in Los Angeles in the early to mid 1980s. In "Bruce Calls from Mulholland" two people try to sort their complex social and romantic lives out during a telephone call. In "At the Still Point" a group of friends share an emotional dinner on the anniversary of the death of one of their mutual friends. In "The Up Escalator" a woman, unhappily married to a movie studio executive, tries to juggle her family life, her social life and the affair that she is having with one of her teenage son's friends while slowly falling apart. In "In the Islands" a man makes a disasterous attempt to bond with his estranged son while on a vacation in Hawaii. In "Sitting Still" a student reflects on her previous experiences in L.A. as she takes the train from New Hampshire to Los Angeles for her father's remarriage. In "Water From the Sun" a popular local newscaster has an affair with a much younger man, but her estranged husband is determined to reconcile with her. In "Discovering Japan" a burnt out rock star continues his mental and physical degradation while on the Japanese leg of his world tour. In "Letters from L.A." a woman narrates her experiences of Los Angeles to her unresponsive friend in a series of increasingly disturbing letters. In "Another Gray Area" a young man finds the death of his father in a plane crash just another complication in his drugged-up existence. In "The Secrets of Summer" a group of vampires live the good life while preying on the youth of Los Angeles. In "the Fifth Wheel" a kidnapping spirals horrifically out of control. In "On the Beach" a woman's approaching death provides food for thought for her partner. In "At the Zoo with Bruce" a woman tries to sort out her relationship with her married boyfriend during a trip to the zoo.

Opinions: Despite being published in 1994, the stories in this book were mostly written while Ellis was at college, at around the time of his debut novel Less Than Zero (1985) (Ellis has stated that he has not written any short stories since 1986). It was published as a kind of stopgap filler as the novel Glamorama (1998) became increasingly delayed.
The stories in the book are all told in the first person, and each one is told by a different narrator. The book is linked by recurring themes, settings and characters. The stories concern wealthy, beautiful and mostly young Los Angeles residents who seem to have limitless supplies of money, sex and drugs, but are mostly completely empty inside. Mostly the characters become almost heroic when they struggle to the barest glimmer of self-awareness. As such they are not the most likeable or engaging of protagonists, and many of the characters are (literally) monsterous. This in itself will probably turn away many potential readers. Ellis tends to adopt a flat, minimalist voice in his writing. However, many of the characters become, if not exactly likeable, at least in a weird way sympathetic.
Ellis is a very talented writer and, while this is not among his best works, none of the stories are devoid of interest, and some are genuinely powerful. The guesome comedy-horror tale "The Secrets of Summer" is a brilliant contemporary vampire story (what better place for bloodsuckers than Hollywood?)
However, if you are new to Bret Easton Ellis this is probably not the best place to start. Personally, I would recommend The Rules of Attraction (1987) or the hugely controversial American Psycho (1991) as a better jumping on point. Fans of Ellis' novels will probably be able to pick up the frequent references to locations and characters form his other works.

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