“Regardless of how horrible the events described here might seem,” writes Bret Easton Ellis, author and protagonist, in the first chapter of his new novel, Lunar Park, “there’s one thing you must remember as you hold this book in your hands: all of it really happened, every word is true.” And the book starts off as an autobiography, describing Ellis’ rock-star lifestyle as part of the Brat Pack of American novelists, full of sex, drugs, alcohol, fast cars, book tours, – an endless party full of people he wrote about in his previous novels, the “wealthy, alienated, sexually ambiguous” generation of the Reagan era. Well, something like an autobiography, anyway – he has a relationship with a famous Hollywood star named Jayne Dennis, and his father is abusive. And if these characters aren’t fictitious enough for you, later on in the book there’s a toy bird that comes alive and turns murderous, a furniture rearranging demon, a homicidal hairball with teeth and Patrick Bateman, the serial killer from Ellis’ masterwork in violence, American Psycho. And the author himself becomes two people at one point – one, the fear-crazed, obsessive, alcoholic narrator, the victim of the terrible events unfolding around him, and ‘the writer’, a cold, dispassionate voice driven only by the plot and its requirements.
This is where the story begins: As his youth begins to wear away and the drug-laden celebrity lifestyle begins to take its toll, Ellis decides to change skins, move to the suburbs and lead a ‘normal life’. He teaches creative writing, marries Jayne and tries, with increasing desperation, to be a father to their son and his daughter. This turns out to be difficult – within four months he’s bored of the routine, has a drug dealer and is lusting after a student – but things suddenly turn seriously dysfunctional, in a brilliantly written if somewhat disjointed mixture of a gore-fest Stephen King horror novel and a comic, observant, savagely satirical look at American values. Shadows in the woods, strangers in the window and serial killers blend in with counseling sessions, parent-teacher meets, pill-popping, celebrity-obsessed children and movie multiplexes. Ellis writes ‘Bret’ as a character losing all faith in himself, a lost, self-obsessed, fading loser no one else respects or believes, haunted by his father and haunting his son, a son he begins to realize he is in danger of losing – in the middle of the general turmoil there’s also a disturbing side-plot about disappearing boys. If ‘Bret’ is to have any chance of rescuing his relationship with his son, he must first understand and deal with the ghosts in his life – his father, his work, his past.
The device of having a writer as a character in a work of fiction has been used before, by writers from Norman Mailer and Philip Roth to Grant Morrison. But what is Ellis really writing about? The creation of an alternate identity by the media? The real/unreal nature of celebrity? Lunar Park leaves a lot of questions unanswered – the supernatural elements are never explained and the author’s honesty is highly suspect, hidden under a dense cloud of self-indulgence and style. The plot is both convoluted and self-parodying, and cheesy horror-movie plot twists and special effects don’t really mix well with intense brooding on the nature of parent-child relationships. In isolation, each of the elements in this novel is treated brilliantly – but when they come together, they produce something that meanders, stutters, shuffles but somehow always manages to disturb and entertain. And that, one suspects, is exactly what Bret Eason Ellis wanted to achieve with this book.