Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis; Knopf, 169 pages ($24.95). It would, no doubt, be immensely satisfying to some to ignore the simultaneous 25th anniversary publication of Bret Easton Ellis' "Less Than Zero" and this, Ellis' new novel featuring its characters. Ellis, after all, is among those responsible for the movie "The Informers" (fictionalized here as "The Listeners"), a movie from one of his books so horrible that Billy Bob Thornton and Kim Basinger made no difference.
But the truly damnable fact about Bret Easton Ellis is that, decadent public image be damned, he remains a profoundly talented -- occasionally even brilliant -- writer from a coterie (his most famous buddy is Jay McInerney) that seemed to be inspired, in equal and varying parts, by Fitzgerald, Nabokov, Stephen King and Walter Winchell. His most lurid and scandalous book, "American Psycho," may have a premise so wrongheaded and hysterical that it's unintentionally comic (that there is a metaphorical relationship between upscale consumerism on society's highest shelf and serial murder), but the book itself has an intricacy and tidal pull that can't be dismissed.
Nor will dismissal do here in "Imperial Bedrooms," which begins with some virtuosic writer's counterpoint between the very real celebrity-clotted Hollywood existence of Bret Easton Ellis, the writer/Hollywood trash compactor who once gave us "Less Than Zero," and the fictionalized version returning with studied disaffection to Hollywood from New York and getting involved with "Less Than Zero's" characters in their new incarnations. New narrative tides eddy sending mysterious dark cars swirling around the narrator. There are new parties to get drunk at and new decadences to bring an excessive Reaganesque flavor to Obama America, submerged as it is in stifled fury and higher motive.
The first-person sentences run on and on, but the individual sections of the book are nothing if not minimal. It isn't long before you have to cede that ghastly narcissism or not, Bret Easton Ellis has a fictional territory all his own and, heaven forbid, a mastery there.
-- Jeff Simon