The age of a writer is a funny thing. Bret Easton Ellis blazed onto the scene at 21; certainly a tender age, one that branded him an enfant terrible and a writer capable of channelling the dark zeitgeist of the consumerist eighties. Even now, a writer in his forties, there seems to be an expectation on him to produce the same rebellious celebrations of shallow youth.
Reading Elllis’s collection, The Informers, reminds me of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work. Both writers were young, intelligent men dissecting the lives of the wealthy around and above them. Ellis’s stories here are about young people with fast luxury cars, Betamax Video Recorders (hey, beta at one stage was cutting edge) and cocaine. A decay is present too though, the characters of the stories are troubled and unhappy despite what their money (or their parent’s money in most cases) can bring.
My favourite story from the collection was Water From the Sun. It contrasts a middle aged woman to her young, toy boy lover. Cheryl is a late night news presenter. She has recently divorced from her husband, William and is seeing, Danny, a nineteen year old college student who lives off his rich father. The story starts after Danny finds his friend has been murdered by ‘a breakdancer at the Odyssey on the night of the Duran Duran look-alike contest.’ This seems to deal a blow to Danny that sees him estrange himself from Cheryl. Not that he seems ever to have offered the support that Cheryl needs.
Cheryl seems burnt-out. She keeps the phone off the hook so she won’t hear from her ex-husband. She wants a vacation from her news schedule, but her agent is powerless to organise her one. Eventually Danny goes, leaving a scribbled note in her apartment to let Cheryl know.
One thing that really appeals from Ellis’s work is the portrayal of Los Angeles and Hollywood as set in a desert. The mentions of tumbleweed, the scenes of driving through the dry terrain drive home the alienation of the people. His female characters often seem a victim of the glitz around them, as though it is binding them and dragging them down like quicksand.
I was impressed by the collection, just as I’m sure the critics were at the time, at the strength and maturity of his voice. A big thank you to my work colleague who let me the collection, I can see why Ellis is her favourite author.