Bret Easton Ellis and his “shards” of madness

Photo of author

By John

In the new highly anticipated novel by Bret Easton Ellis, “Le Schegge” (Einaudi, translated by Giuseppe Culicchia), the unexpected resemblance with the writing of Alberto Arbasino, especially that of «Fratelli d’Italia», a novel from 1963, then rewritten in 1976. Ellis hadn’t published a novel since «Bianco», 13 years. But We haven’t read a beautiful and dramatically lacerating book of his like this «Splinters» since the 90s, perhaps even since the days of «American Psycho».
Here we find Bret Easton Ellis “in purity”: erotic, disturbing, ambiguous, violent. But also shameless, lucid in his sharp reflections on memory and desire, but above all armed with a ruthless and true narrative in representing these “paranoid and puritanical” times of ours. Just as the freedom that was felt in a novel like «Brothers of Italy» in ’76 was “new”, now Ellis’s ability to talk about love, eros and emotional sensitivity is a school of its own. The story he tells is set in the autumn of 1981, when the lives of a group of seventeen-year-old Californians who attend the elite Buckley School are turned upside down by the arrival of a boy “as charming as he is disturbed and perverse”.
As always in Ellis there is the black and disturbing aspect provided by the unexplored depths of the human psyche. The writer then becomes like a diver who, after his last dive, discovers that he himself is at the bottom. Not a wreck, in the Proustian way. Nor a ghost, à la Henry James. No, just him. We start from the memories of BretEastonEllis, with him as the first person protagonist, and then find, along the way, a story, or rather, the story, which concerns the mystery surrounding the coincidence of the arrival of Robert Mallory, the disturbed and perverse student who fascinates everyone, with the arrival in the city – a sensual, violent Los Angeles, overflowing with pool parties and new wave music, vodka and cocaine – of the Fisherman, a serial killer who rages: «… if the spring and summer of 1981 had been the dream, something heavenly, then the month of September represented the end of that dream with the arrival of Robert Mallory.”
The young Bret, protagonist of the novel and alter ego of the writer, is overwhelmed and enchanted by Robert’s ambiguous charm, with whom he develops a real obsession. But at the same time, his very existence is torn apart by another obsessive nightmare, which concerns the Fisherman, the serial murderer who is not only claiming victims in Los Angeles, but seems “determined to hit Bret’s group of friends, and Bret same…”. Ellis builds this monumental novel in a classic way on the one hand, on the supporting structure of the initiatory path of the adolescent Bret – almost a bildungsroman, in short – who is discovering his literary vocation and his homosexuality; but on the other hand he ambitiously shifts his creative target towards “the territories from which no traveler has ever returned”, the always fertile valley of horror, where terrifying acts of violence and omens of death rage (and dominate the narrative).