He's Back 

Is Bret Easton Ellis for real?

"The book was all about the hard sell (the million-dollar advance guaranteed that) but it was also going to be poignant and quietly devastating and put every other book written by my generation to shame."

That's author Bret Easton Ellis describing the book he owes his publisher, Knopf, but he can't be bothered writing it. There isn't time. The college class he teaches meets a grueling one afternoon a week. The grad student he wants to bed is giving him the go-around -- until her body parts (minus the head) end up in a motel room. And the actress he's been married to for three months is on his back to clean up his act. (Fat chance, given the Xanax and Klonopin Ellis keeps popping and the Ketel One he keeps downing.) But to top it all, Ellis' adolescent son by that actress wife is giving him the silent treatment.

On the brighter side, though, he's got stepdaughter Sarah, a real angel and no wonder. She and her fellow first-graders at the progressive Buckley School north of New York City are floating on a cloud of Zoloft, Celexa, and Paxil. But on the darker side, Sarah's having trouble with her current reading assignment (Lord of the Flies), plus her favorite stuffed toy, a bird named Terby (get it?), is coming to life and ripping the ceilings inside the suburban spread Ellis calls home.

That ain't all. The exterior paint on that house is mysteriously peeling, the furniture is rearranging itself, and, in a night of heart-stopping terror, what looks to be a giant hairball is tearing through the upstairs bedrooms. Ellis is witness to it all, so he hires an exorcist to de-demonize the place.

Meanwhile, a college student named Clayton may or may not be responsible for a series of grisly murders modeled after those in Ellis' American Psycho. Clayton's after Ellis too (forget the killer hairball), and so is a detective who goes by the name Donald Kimball (see again American Psycho), but he may or may not be a real detective.

To make more matters much worse, the author's dead father may or may not be sending Ellis e-mails, and the family dog may or may not morph into a killer shrew after Terby climbs inside his anus. (The dog's, not Ellis'.) But something does get into Ellis after his marriage falls apart: Michael Graves, the name of the lead character in Teenage Pussy (the title of the book Ellis isn't writing but owes Knopf) and the boyfriend (out of nowhere) Ellis ends up with in the closing pages of his rotten new novel, Lunar Park, a book whose main character is not only an awful lot like Bret Easton Ellis but is named Bret Easton Ellis.

The book (Lunar Park, not Teenage Pussy), is, for all its mea culpas and with-it references, neither poignant nor quietly devastating but a hard-sell and shame it sure is -- that and a demonstration of the diagnosis that Ellis (for real?) once received after yet another useless stint in rehab: "acquired situational narcissism."

I say, no sale.

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