Review: Author is 'too hip for his own good'
Alfred A. Knopf, $25
Review by L.D. Meagher
September 29, 1999
(CNN) -- Is it possible to be too hip? Can the pursuit of the cool, the now, the happening of the moment overwhelm, even destroy a person? It can, and does, in "Glamorama," the latest novel from Bret Easton Ellis, author of "Less Than Zero" and "American Psycho."
"Glamorama" unfolds in that New York demimonde where chic is a way of life. It's a land of self-perpetuated celebrity, where people are sized up and classified based on their looks, their wealth, their level of notoriety, and the number of magazine covers their faces grace. Life in this world is narrow and shallow, but very intense.
Just ask Victor. The sometime-model, wannabe actor is widely known as "The It Boy." He's currently involved in helping a wealthy acquaintance open a new club in Manhattan. It's not that he knows anything about clubs, mind you. It's because, at this particular nanosecond, Victor is "hot." There's a buzz about him on the street (well, at least on some streets). He's dating a supermodel (herself fresh from rehab, so there's a buzz about her, too) and dallying with his boss's girlfriend (another supermodel) on the side. His life may not be full, but it's certainly busy.
It's also spiraling out of control. A gossip columnist is about to go public about his dalliance with the boss' girlfriend. That would be bad enough, but Victor is also plotting to open his own club in direct competition with the one he was hired to work on. If the boss finds out about either indiscretion, Victor will be in deep trouble. Then there's the matter of the impersonator. People are constantly telling Victor they saw him somewhere -- Miami, mostly -- that he hadn't been. He can't explain it, and really doesn't want to try because the places he was seen were always hot spots he should have frequented.
Events swirl and collide, leaving Victor bloody and penniless with one last hope for bailing himself out. A mysterious man has offered him a substantial sum of money to track down one of his college classmates. He agrees, and sets off for London. There, he finds the "missing" woman on the set of her latest movie. Their reunion is strained. Even so, he follows her to Paris, and into a nest of supermodel terrorists.
By this point in the story, the reader may be excused for wondering what in the world is going on. As outrageous as the earlier events of the novel are, they still maintain a tenuous connection to reality. Ellis deftly pillories the narcissism of the glamor world and its inhabitants. Their disconnection from what the rest of us consider "real life" is summed up in Victor's perceptions. Everything he sees is a brand name.
"Stills from Chloe's loft in a space that looks like it was designed by Dan Flavin: two Toshiyuki Kita hop sofas, an expanse of white maple floor, six Baccarat Tastevin wineglasses -- a gift from Bruce and Nan Weber -- dozens of white French tulips, a Stairmaster and a free-weight set, photography books-Matthew Rolston, Annie Lebovitz, Herb Ritts -- all signed, a Faberge Imperial egg -- a gift from Bruce Willis (pre-Demi) -- a large plain portrait of Chloe by Richard Avedonů." The list goes on and on. And on.
Much of "Glamorama" seems to be a kind of hipness test. How many famous names can you recognize? As a literary device for underscoring what Victor and his crowd consider important, it can be effective. Ellis is telling us that staying au courant can be hard work. But after a while, the barrage of luxuries and luminaries becomes relentlessly excessive.
Those aren't the only excesses in the book. The plot gets hopelessly tangled up in a tale of international intrigue that seems to have been imported from another novel. And from the time he leaves New York, Victor -- the narrator of the story -- describes events as if he's acting in a movie, down to his conversations with directors, cinematographers and script girls about what's going to happen next. Perhaps he is recognizing that his life has become an illusion. Perhaps he's schizophrenic. Ellis may know, but he's not telling.
Bret Easton Ellis is a gifted writer. His insights into the celebrity life are telling. He offers his readers a sense of vicarious superiority over the vapid characters that populate his story. His eye is unflinching, whether he's describing the ensemble worn by a notorious clothes horse, or the grisly aftermath of a hotel bombing, or the graphic details of a menage a trois. But in the end, "Glamorama" is less than the sum of its parts. The reader has no reason to care what happens to anyone in the novel. There's no character worthy of redemption.
"Glamorama" is a novel of attitude rather than of substance. Like his characters, Ellis commits the gravest sin of these celebrity-soaked times. He is too hip for his own good.
L.D. Meagher is a senior writer at CNN Headline News. He has worked in broadcasting for 30 years.
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