By Bret Easton Ellis
482 pages, $25
They say it took Bret Easton Ellis that long to write "Glamorama," his take on the life of celebrity-obsessed society at the end of the millennium.
In those years, it seemed he couldn't go a week without appearing in tabloid society photos, mugging for the paparazzi or hoisting bubbly at a table sprinkled with models and "Entertainment Tonight" faces.
Ah, the hard, lonely life of the dogged investigator.
So now Ellis stoops to conquer the whole scene, regurgitating this bloated, reeling shock-lit exercise on his readers. It's such miserable reading that I expect someone, somewhere, is calling it art.
No stockbroker/serial killer for Ellis this time, as in his snuff-porn classic "American Psycho." No such luck.
The inmates of this book are the celebrity-fueled denizens of Manhattan's A-list world, which Ellis paints as a moral black hole behind velvet ropes. The most interesting are a clique of supermodel-terrorists who blow up hotels and jetliners with plastique-packed Gucci bags.
It's not nearly as much fun as it sounds.
Here's the story: Victor Ward, 20-something " 'It' Boy of the Moment," is breathing rare air indeed. He has Brad Pitt's looks, he's dating a Kate Moss clone, helping to open Manhattan's latest uber-club, being interviewed by MTV, modeling for Calvin Klein. He's tooling around TriBeCa on a Vespa scooter, hoping that part in "Flatliners II" happens.
He lives on a diet of Marlboros and Xanax and Veuve Cliquot and Mentos. If he were trapped in one of those no-frills generic grocery stores, he would surely die.
Under the candy coating, Victor has nothing. His life is filled with Ellis cliches: joyless sex, bummer drugs, emotionless breakdowns. A representative sample of dialogue, typical "Clueless" meets "Beavis and Butt-head":
"Lucidity. Total lucidity, baby."
"I wish I knew what that meant, Victor."
"Three words, my friend: Prada, Prada, Prada."
Victor gets caught bedding the wrong woman, ticks off his club partner and falls from the ranks of the chosen. At that point, as a vehicle for satire, Victor has gobs of promise. But Ellis doesn't have the chops to pull it off.
Unfortunately, Ellis decided to graft an action-adventure plot onto the second half of "Glamorama." It reads as if he was told Hollywood wouldn't option the book in its initial state.
So Victor has an unexpected meeting with a mysterious man at the Fashion Cafe, where he agrees to travel to Europe to find an ex-girlfriend he can't remember. En route aboard the QE II, he warms to yet another girl, who then disappears. On arrival in London, he bumbles into the clutches of a gang of runway stars who are bombing hotels, parks, museums, subways and planes, for no discernible reason.
This makes Victor mildly uncomfortable at first.
Will he break free of their evil clutches? Is it all a plot by his father, the (gasp!) U.S. senator, to get him out of the country during elections? Can he defeat the heartbreak of psoriasis?
Throughout, Ellis' prose is flat as Kansas. The only times his pulse seems to quicken are during several wet torture-dismemberment scenes, a slo-mo jetliner bombing and a marathon AC-DC all-orifices sex scene. Next to those passages, it seems the height of subtlety to have Victor begin frequently bursting into tears without supplying any interior dialogue.
To his credit, Ellis certainly has his stylistic moments, such as his continuing device, in the book's second half, of having a film crew or two follow Victor everywhere. What is real? What is make-believe? What's the difference?
Ellis, the scamp, also gets off some cheeky in-jokes, as when Victor identifies himself as the fellow everyone thought was dating David Geffen.
Before Ellis is through, however, the celebrity names and brand names (products all, he seems to say) pile one upon the next for pages, until you can feel them accumulating like radioactive iodine in your thyroid. For the love of Versace, you moan, make him stop!
But there is no emergency cord on this express train to Fashion Hell. That's Ellis' salient point, it seems: Here, reader, feel what it's like to be terminally shallow, self-obsessed, incapable of any values beyond the material. This is what life is like, when all that matters is how others see you, and the only rules are the ones you just made.
Precious little juice to squeeze out of this turnip. Try Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil" instead.
It's shorter, better-written -- and a lot more fun.