One of the key factors to the immense succes of Bret Easton Ellis‘ American Psycho was the novels painstaking attention to detail. The narrating voice of wall street good-for-nothing/ psychopatic murderer Patrick Bateman is endlessly running through the mundanities of his life, so much more depressing for their sheer extravaganza in wealth and cruelty, which never seem to really touch the narrator in the slightest. Bateman always seems to be at home in this world of specific and knowable things he can possess and destroy, and he knows his michelin-guide down to the blood spots on the last page. He is truly the King of Manhattan.
At first glance Ellis writes Bateman as a supremely authorative narrator, but it is a well known fact that Bateman-the-narrator unravels at the end of the book, where rather silly and incredible things happen, that simply could not take place in real life. Here it becomes clear that at least some of the things Bateman’s telling us are simply wishful fantasies (like blowing up police cars with one shot from his gun) – a fact that a lot of the books critics for some reason missed. Of course – rather obviously – this leads us to question of the truth of Bateman’s whole narration. Has he really killed anyone? But to take yet another round on this boring narratological question is not my point here, since we really cannot know this. Only Bateman can tell us. And he’s not here.
My point is rather to point out some places, where Bateman also is telling us untrue things, even though we don’t notice at first glance. These has to do with music, another great interest of Patrick Bateman, where he for all his knowledge shows that he clearly has absolutely no taste – like preferring post-“Duke” Genesis to pre-“Duke”, which for any music-lover is simply preposterous. I will not even mention his excruciatingly and bizarre long essay on the qualities of Whitney Houston. No, my point is really: although Bateman pretends to know all sorts of stuff about his muscial heroes, he doesn’t know what the crap he is talking about! Mistakes are legio. Some examples (page numbers are from Picador paperback edition 1991):
p. 4: “the Crystals still blaring from the radio.”
Bateman is here driving in a taxi though Manhattan, and the legendary Phil Spector-hit “Be My Baby” is playing on the radio. Of course Bateman, ever the music conaisseur, knows the title of the song. But he gets the group wrong. The Crystals never recorded “Be My Baby”, which was made into an immortal pop-gem by The Ronettes, the leading Spector-band. The Crystals, on the other hand did record many other Spector-classics, including “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me”. But any real music fan – especially anyone brave enough to brag about his knowledge – would know the difference.
p. 133: “The only bummer about Duke is “Alone Tonight” which is way too reminiscent of “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” from the group’s later masterpiece Invisible Touch and the only example, really, of where Collins has plagirized himself.”
This seemingly innocent and knowledgable remark actually reverses the timeline of Phil Collins‘ inspirations. Clearly – as stated in the quote – Collins cannot plagirize the songs he has not yet written, and any plagirizing problem should be a problem for “Invisble Touch” and not “Duke”. The comment appears to be authoritative, but on closer inspection it makes no sense.
p. 135: “its second instrumental part puts the song more in focus for me and Mike Banks gets to show off his virtuosic guitar skills while Tom Rutherford washes the tracks over with dreamy synthesizers”
But on page p. 133 the members of Genesis were called by their real names Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks. Why does Bateman mix these names up only two pages later?
p. 353: (in a comparison of Huey Lewis and Elvis Costello): “Lewis has some of Costello’s supposed bitterness, though Lewis has a more bitter, cynical sense of humor”
Again the comparison on the surface seems to make sense, but the claim that good-time bar rocker Huey Lewis should have a more bitter and cynical sense of humor than the King of Cynicism himself is clearly ridiculous. Again, Bateman is exposed as a musical poseur who in reality has no idea what he is talking about.
All this of course seems trivial in the sense that the whole point of the novel “American Psycho” seems to be to undermine Batemans narration, but to me it’s interesting that even in the parts where Bateman seems to be on his “home turf” in reality he is – as always – out of his mind.