Lunar Park, Bret Easton Ellis

by Michael Schutz

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Synopsis via Goodreads: Bret Ellis, the narrator of Lunar Park, is a writer whose first novel Less Than Zero catapulted him to international stardom while he was still in college. In the years that followed he found himself adrift in a world of wealth, drugs, and fame, as well as dealing with the unexpected death of his abusive father. After a decade of decadence, a chance for salvation arrives; the chance to reconnect with an actress he was once involved with and their son. But almost immediately his new life is threatened by a freak sequence of events and a bizarre series of murders that all seem to connect to Ellis’s past. His attempts to save his new world from his own demons makes Lunar Park Ellis’s most suspenseful novel. In this chilling tale reality, memoir, and fantasy combine to create not only a fascinating version of this most controversial writer but also a deeply moving novel about love and loss, parents and children, and ultimately forgiveness. 

I read that with Lunar Park, Bret Easton Ellis had written a horror novel. Count me in! I’ve been a fan since The Rules of Attraction presented me with the first gay love scene I’d read. His American Psycho gave me my first immersion into brutal, transgressive fiction. And to be honest, Ellis’ distracted, drug-addicted big-city characters showed me a world that this small town gay boy wished he could at least glimpse in person.

The author... the character...

The author... the character...

Cruising through the first half of Lunar Park, I didn’t see much serious attempt at horror. He’d put in a couple weird incidents, but mostly the book read like any and all of Ellis’ work. And maybe my love affair with his writing had come to an end. Did the older, sober me really care about apathetic big-league drug fiends? Half-hearted attempts at horror bother me, too. It’s insulting to writers of dark speculative fiction. So what’s going on here? New York Times darling, bad-boy Bret Easton Ellis makes a nod to horror and critics faint from the brilliance of it? How typical.

Okay, so my first impression wasn’t positive, but that first chapter had hooked me hard: pseudo-autobiographical, Ellis created a vivid—and lurid—fictional version of himself. So the narrative itself compelled me to continue for a while longer. After all, I do love when authors insert themselves into their stories (Song of Susannah rocketed up to my favorite Dark Tower installment when the ka-tet searched out this writer in Maine named Stephen King).

Good thing I gave the book a bit longer because as it turned out, just when the doubts set in, Lunar Park really clicked into place.

First of all, I realized the main point. Lunar Park basically gives us Clay with a wife and kid. Patrick Bateman as a homeowner. While bemoaning that the anti-hero was a carbon copy of every Ellis protagonist, I didn’t catch on that the book isn't about a matured character but rather a matured situation. And that’s even more interesting. After that came the logical next step—in the same way that peer pressure can lead to drug and alcohol use, the pressure of familial responsibility begins to break down the Ellis character. He weakens, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t stop himself from becoming a husband and father. To him, this is a problem that he can’t shake. Sometimes a father and husband looks in the mirror and can’t reconcile himself as the alcoholic or addict that he’s become. For “Bret Ellis,” he can’t understand how the bad boy ended up as a dad in the suburbs.

Remember these things?

Remember these things?

Then Ellis nailed the horror. In the chapter about “The Tomb.” Ellis wrote one of the scariest scenes I’ve ever read. I had assumed that our author wasn’t going to make an honest effort at chills, but turns out that his build-up throughout the novel created perfect tension and framework. When he finally pulled the trigger, the result was terrifying and believable despite its outlandishness. The narrative had captivated me and firmly suspended my disbelief. All the threads of this story knotted together in a noose around my neck. The rambling New York style proved not so rambling, and whne the tale finished, I saw that Ellis hadn't used a single extraneous word or scene.

I had lost my faith in Bret Easton Ellis about a third of the way in, but I shouldn’t have. His creative powers are in full force here. Lunar Park is deftly woven. It’s a little satirical about himself and his previous novels. It’s clever and bittersweet. It’s a satisfying puzzle. And it has moments of excellent terror. Lunar Park is a five-Dweller Head winner.

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Michael Schutz

Michael Schutz was born and raised in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, where the macabre tales of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King kept him warm at night. He’s seen way too many horror movies to be healthy and blogs and podcasts about them on Darkness Dwells. Watch for his new novel, Edging, from Burning Willow Press in spring 2017. He is the author of the novel Blood Vengeance and the novella Uninoch. His short fiction has been featured most recently in Dark Moon Digest, Sanitarium, and the anthologies Beasts: Revelations, Beyond the Nightlight, and Cranial Leakage: Tales from the Grinning Skull. He lives with his three naughty cat-children in northern California.