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September 23, 1987 - Image 65

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-09-23

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BOOKS

Two Hotshot
Authors Aim
for More Fame

Bret and Tama write fashionably, if not well

hey are the "next big thing" in litera-
ture, the most fashionable of a new
wave of young writers who are trendi-
er than Bermuda shorts in October or
peach champagne. Bret and Tama. (That's
Bret Easton Ellis, author of "Less Than
Zero," and Tama Janowitz, author of
"Slaves of New York," for those of you who
are, like, totally out of it.) And for those of
you who loved them the first time, their
new novels reverberate with the same oh-
so-hip, happening, wrenchingly ironic
prose. But as novelists go, these two must
be a cultural aberration: they specialize in
image, not imagination. They ignore the
more mundane devices of plot, character
and motivation, instead offering stylized
Cliffs Notes for life in the '80s. They are to
literature what painting on velvet is to art.
Ellis, now 23 and living in New York,
wrote his first novel during Bennington
College's nonresident freshman term. The
bookwashailed foritsdisturbingportraitof
wealthy, coked-up kids on break from
schools like USC ("University of Spoiled
Children"). In his new novel, "The Rules of
Attraction" (256 pages. Simon and Schus-
ter. $17.95), Ellis sticks with the subject he
seems to know best-young people so hol-
low inside they can't destroy themselves
fast enough. These characters are seniors at
a thinly disguised and relocated Benning-
ton-small, isolated "Camden College" in
the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire.

A half-dozen undergrads (Sean,
Paul, Lauren, Patrick, Mitchell
and Mary) narrate, and all are
having a disastrously typical
winter semester. For those con-
vinced college is hell, this is
yourbook.
In Ellis's world, surface is ev-
erything, and character is de-
fined by a hip haircut or the
quality of a leather coat. Ellis
lists the equipment of these
privileged kids in lurid detail:
everyone drives Saabs, fre-
quents New York's Surf Club,
wears artfully torn Loden wool
coats from the Salvation Army,
eats cute food like Chuckles and
squanders his trust fund on
enormous quantities of drugs
and liquor. The book reads as if
it were an unabridged L.L. Bean
Northeastern collegiate cool: G
and Beck's are acceptable beers;
reserved for "assholes." The hig
is Waspiness, something Ellis se
spect because it is bred and nc
"That beautifully proportioned]
but not anorexic, her skin, WAS
and delicately pure..."
Ellis is most effective when h
capture something unnervingly t
these kids and their total lack
When one student tries to overdo
BERNARD GOTFRYD

NANCY MORAN-OUTLINE
Andy's girl: Janowitz with cardboard Warhol
catalog of and booze early in the story, Ellis's dead-
mny, Bud pan prose conveys the sneering disgust
Grolsch is with which this "dumb freshman" stunt is
hest value greeted. Later, when another student suc-
ems to re- ceeds in offing herself by dragging a razor
)t bought: blade across her wrists, the reaction is
body, thin frighteningly blank. "The girl who killed
P creamy, herself got the flyer the rest of us all got in
her box, telling her she was indeed dead-
his details and that there would be a memorial service
true about for her in Tishman."
of feeling. MTV videos: But like the characters in
se on pills "Less Than Zero," these kids evoke no af-
-NEWSWEEK fection or empathy. They seem to resemble
their parents-rich Eastern snobs who
drink too much, have sleazy affairs and
care only about their cars. These kids make
no effort to be different, let alone better,
than the adults they despise. They, too,
show no interest in books or ideas, worry
inordinately about clothes, dull reality by
downing bottles of Actifed, Sudafed, Ny-
quil and every other supermarket drug,
and trash the people they love because they
are too stoned/wasted to know whom they
are sleeping with half the time. The story is
Cliffs Notes for life in the '80s: Novelist
Ellis at home in New York

NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUS 49

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