American Psycho: Read an Extract
When it was first published in 1991, American Psycho was one of the most controversial novels ever seen in print. It remains so today. Read on for the opening.
ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank near the corner of Eleventh and First and is in print large enough to be seen from the backseat of the cab as it lurches forward in the traffic leaving Wall Street and just as Timothy Price notices the words a bus pulls up, the advertisement for Les Misérables on its side blocking his view, but Price who is with Pierce & Pierce and twenty-six doesn’t seem to care because he tells the driver he will give him five dollars to turn up the radio, “Be My Baby” on WYNN, and the driver, black, not American, does so.
“I’m resourceful,” Price is saying. “I’m creative, I’m young, unscrupulous, highly motivated, highly skilled. In essence what I’m saying is that society cannot afford to lose me. I’m an asset.” Price calms down, continues to stare out the cab’s dirty window, probably at the word FEAR sprayed in red graffiti on the side of a McDonald’s on Fourth and Seventh. “I mean the fact remains that no one gives a shit about their work, everybody hates their job, I hate my job, you’ve told me you hate yours. What do I do? Go back to Los Angeles? Not an alternative. I didn’t transfer from UCLA to Stanford to put up with this. I mean am I alone in thinking we’re not making enough money?” Like in a movie another bus appears, another poster for Les Misérables replaces the word—not the same bus because someone has written the word DYKE over Eponine’s face. Tim blurts out, “I have a co-op here. I have a place in the Hamptons, for Christ sakes.”
“Parents’, guy. It’s the parents’.”
“I’m buying it from them. Will you fucking turn this up?” he snaps but distractedly at the driver, the Crystals still blaring from the radio.
“It don’t go up no higher,” maybe the driver says.
Timothy ignores him and irritably continues. “I could stay living in this city if they just installed Blaupunkts in the cabs. Maybe the ODM III or ORC II dynamic tuning systems?” His voice softens here. “Either one. Hip my friend, very hip.”
He takes off the expensive-looking Walkman from around his neck, still complaining. “I hate to complain—I really do—about the trash, the garbage, the disease, about how filthy this city really is and you know and I know that it is a sty . . .” He continues talking as he opens his new Tumi calfskin attaché case he bought at D. F. Sanders. He places the Walkman in the case alongside a Panasonic wallet-size cordless portable folding Easa-phone (he used to own the NEC 9000 Porta portable) and pulls out today’s newspaper. “In one issue—in one issue—let’s see here . . . strangled models, babies thrown from tenement rooftops, kids killed in the subway, a Communist rally, Mafia boss wiped out, Nazis”—he flips through the pages excitedly—“baseball players with AIDS, more Mafia shit, gridlock, the homeless, various maniacs, faggots dropping like flies in the streets, surrogate mothers, the cancellation of a soap opera, kids who broke into a zoo and tortured and burned various animals alive, more Nazis . . . and the joke is, the punch line is, it’s all in this city—nowhere else, just here, it sucks, whoa wait, more Nazis, gridlock, gridlock, baby-sellers, black-market babies, AIDS babies, baby junkies, building collapses on baby, maniac baby, gridlock, bridge collapses—” His voice stops, he takes in a breath and then quietly says, his eyes fixed on a beggar at the corner of Second and Fifth, “That’s the twenty-fourth one I’ve seen today. I’ve kept count.” Then asks without looking over, “Why aren’t you wearing the worsted navy blue blazer with the gray pants?” Price is wearing a six-button wool and silk suit by Ermenegildo Zegna, a cotton shirt with French cuffs by Ike Behar, a Ralph Lauren silk tie and leather wing tips by Fratelli Rossetti. Pan down to the Post. There is a moderately interesting story concerning two people who disappeared at a party aboard the yacht of a semi-noted New York socialite while the boat was circling the island. A residue of spattered blood and three smashed champagne glasses are the only clues. Foul play is suspected and police think that perhaps a machete was the killer’s weapon because of certain grooves and indentations found on the deck. No bodies have been found. There are no suspects. Price began his spiel today over lunch and then brought it up again during the squash game and continued ranting over drinks at Harry’s where he had gone on, over three J&Bs and water, much more interestingly about the Fisher account that Paul Owen is handling. Price will not shut up.
“Diseases!” he exclaims, his face tense with pain. “There’s this theory out now that if you can catch the AIDS virus through having sex with someone who is infected then you can also catch anything, whether it’s a virus per se or not—Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, leukemia, anorexia, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, for Christ sakes—you can get dyslexia from pussy—”
“I’m not sure, guy, but I don’t think dyslexia is a virus.”
“Oh, who knows? They don’t know that. Prove it.”
Outside this cab, on the sidewalks, black and bloated pigeons fight over scraps of hot dogs in front of a Gray’s Papaya while transvestites idly look on and a police car cruises silently the wrong way down a one-way street and the sky is low and gray and in a cab that’s stopped in traffic across from this one, a guy who looks a lot like Luis Carruthers waves over at Timothy and when Timothy doesn’t return the wave the guy—slicked-back hair, suspenders, horn-rimmed glasses—realizes it’s not who he thought it was and looks back at his copy of USA Today. Panning down to the sidewalk there’s an ugly old homeless bag lady holding a whip and she cracks it at the pigeons who ignore it as they continue to peck and fight hungrily over the remains of the hot dogs and the police car disappears into an underground parking lot.
“But then, when you’ve just come to the point when your reaction to the times is one of total and sheer acceptance, when your body has become some tuned into the insanity and you reach that point where it all makes sense, when it clicks, we get some crazy fucking homeless nigger who actually wants—listen to me, Bateman—wants to be out on the streets, this, those streets, see, those”—he points—“and we have a mayor who won’t listen to her, a mayor who won’t let the bitch have her way—Holy Christ—let the fucking bitch freeze to death, put her out of her own goddamn self-made misery, and look, you’re back where you started, confused, fucked . . . Number twenty-four, nope, twenty-five . . . Who’s going to be at Evelyn’s? Wait, let me guess.” He holds up a hand attached to an impeccable manicure. “Ashley, Courtney, Muldwyn, Marina, Charles—am I right so far? Maybe one of Evelyn’s ‘artiste’ friends from ohmygod the ‘East’ Village. You know the type—the ones who ask Evelyn if she has a nice dry white chardonnay—” He slaps a hand over his forehead and shuts his eyes and now he mutters, jaw clenched, “I’m leaving. I’m dumping Meredith. She’s essentially daring me to like her. I’m gone. Why did it take me so long to realize that she has all the personality of a goddamn gameshow host? . . . Twenty-six, twenty-seven . . . I mean I tell her I’m sensitive. I told her I was freaked out by the Challenger accident— what more does she want? I’m ethical, tolerant, I mean I’m extremely satisfied with my life, I’m optimistic about the future—I mean, aren’t you?”
“And all I get is shit from her . . . Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, holy shit it’s a goddamn cluster of bums. I tell you—” He stops suddenly, as if exhausted, and turning away from another advertisement for Les Misérables, remembering something important, asks, “Did you read about the host from that game show on TV? He killed two teenage boys? Depraved faggot. Droll, really droll.” Price waits for a reaction. There is none. Suddenly: Upper West Side.
He tells the driver to stop on the corner of Eighty-first and Riverside since the street doesn’t go the right way.
“Don’t bother going arou—” Price begins.
“Maybe I go other way around,” the cabdriver says.
“Do not bother.” Then barely an aside, teeth gritted, unsmiling: “Fucking nitwit.”
The driver brings the cab to a stop. Two cabs behind this cab both blare their horns then move on.
“Should we bring flowers?”
“Nah. Hell, you’re banging her, Bateman. Why should we get Evelyn flowers? You better have change for a fifty,” he warns the driver, squinting at the red numbers on the meter. “Damnit. Steroids. Sorry I’m tense.”
“Thought you were off them.”
“I was getting acne on my legs and arms and the UVA bath wasn’t fixing it, so I started going to a tanning salon instead and got rid of it. Jesus, Bateman, you should see how ripped my stomach is. The definition. Completely buffed out . . .” he says in a distant, odd way, while waiting for the driver to hand him the change. “Ripped.”
Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho is one of the most controversial and talked-about novels of all time. A multimillion-copy bestseller hailed as a modern classic, it is a violent black comedy about the darkest side of human nature.
With an introduction by Irvine Welsh, American Psycho is available in Paperback and Ebook, alongside more of Bret Easton Ellis' books, such as his debut Less Than Zero and his most recent novel Imperial Bedrooms.
Read some of the first responses to Easton Ellis's debut novel, Less Than Zero.