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BOOKS IN THE MIRROR: Memo to Bret Easton Ellis: Shape Up: Bret Easton Ellis, LUNAR PARK, Knopf, August 2005

Memo to Bret Easton Ellis: if your daughter’s favorite doll comes alive, grows fangs, attacks you, and then scurries under the bed in front of multiple witnesses who claim they saw nothing, maybe it didn’t really happen.

Bret Easton Ellis, the unreliable narrator of Bret Easton Ellis’ new novel Lunar Park, is a practicing drug and alcohol addict with no desire for sobriety, or, as the reader grudgingly realizes, a normal life.  He spends his days sitting around the house half dressed, high on cocaine, alcohol, and antidepressants, watching his “normal” family attempting to live their lives around him.

Like all addicts, Bret is obsessed with his next fix. Although the book boasts a haunted house plot involving monsters, demons, and the ghost of Bret’s dead father, Bret is too focused on the proverbial monkey on his back to care about the almost constant paranormal phenomena he witnesses. Naturally, he never considers the possibility that heavy drug and alcohol use could cause hallucinations. As far as he’s concerned, drugs are his friends and he doesn’t have a problem. When the monsters become more violent (presumably to get his attention), Bret tries to convince his family that the house is haunted. Although his children are present when the “monsters” attack, they never see anything. 

Lunar Park weaves Ellis’ real life into the plot of a novel to produce a muddled, formless haze. Experiencing the world through Bret’s eyes is similar to looking at the world through a hangover.  It is difficult to get a sense of the physical locations of characters during action scenes. The reader begins to assume that Bret views the world with one eye shut. One is forced to squint at his wife and children. All the reader learns about them in the first two thirds of the book is how they annoy Bret. Indeed, his open contempt and neglect of his children at the start of the novel is far more terrifying than any monster popping out from under the bed later on.

In one scene, he casually serves his eleven-year old son Robby alcohol. He pointedly ignores Sarah, his six-year old daughter, because she delays him from doing cocaine with Jay McInerney. Incredibly, when he is convinced there is a vicious monster in the house heading toward Sarah’s room, he does nothing to help her until he hears her screaming for her mother.

Bret tries to act the part of “father” in his house, but he has lines for other people to read, and he can’t understand why they won’t play their parts. In talking about his son, he says, “We were both scared and wary of each other, and I was the one who needed to make a connection, to mend us, but his reluctance — as loud and insistent as an anthem — seemed impossible to overcome.”  It never occurs to Bret that his focus on drugs rather than on his son’s well-being might be a source of Robby’s reluctance.

One could possibly see this novel as an attempt at satirizing self-involved parents, but satire requires a moral compass to be effective – it must have a message, not merely a thin, cruel parody. Thus, this book fails as both satire and as a horror novel. It might be a postmodern mystery – does Bret, who shares the same name and physical attributes of the author, really see ghosts, or is he hallucinating? Unfortunately, Bret is completely unsympathetic; the reader has a difficult time worrying about him. He presents his wife as alternately passive or aggressive. He’s jealous of her relationship with their children, allowing jealousy to push her off to the side as a character who makes him look bad.

Another noticeable problem is Ellis’ pacing. The first two thirds of the book are repetitive domestic drama. Bret tries to defend his behavior to the reader by claiming he’s either hung over or too strung out to deal with his family, eventually claiming “a writer…slants all evidence in favor of the conclusions you want to produce and you rarely tilt in favor of the truth.” Bret’s conclusions are simple – his problems are everyone else’s fault. In the last third of the book, the horror plot takes over, and the narrative plunges into a predictable “ghost has unfinished business” scenario.At one point, Bret debates the “writer” – a voice in his head egging him on to be more dramatic. The “writer” is frustrated at Bret’s lackluster reaction to the monsters. Bret explains, “The writer was hoping the horror of it all would galvanize me.” Whether or not the ghosts do galvanize Bret to get sober and care about others is the only discernable question Lunar Park raises. Are addicts so absorbed with either being high or getting high that they don’t mind if the monster is coming to get them? It’s a question best left to teen horror films, where high school kids surreptitiously do drugs while their parents are away, then wonder if the monster is real right before it kills them. Ellis, an accomplished novelist, should ask more interesting questions.

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