Twenty-five years on from “Less Than Zero”, we pick up again with “Clay”.
In 1985, Bret Easton Ellis shocked, stunned and disturbed with“Less Than Zero”, his ‘extraordinarily accomplished first novel’ (“New Yorker”), successfully chronicling the frightening consequences of unmitigated hedonism within the ranks of the ethically bereft youth of 80s Los Angeles. Now, twenty-five years later, Ellis returns to those same characters: to Clay and the band of infamous teenagers whose lives weave sporadically through his.
But now, some years on, they face an even greater period of disaffection: their own middle age. Clay seems to have moved on – he’s become a successful screenwriter – but when he returns from New York to Los Angeles, to help cast his new movie, he’s soon drifting through a long-familiar circle. Blair, his former girlfriend, is now married to Trent, and their Beverly Hills parties attract excessive levels of fame and fortune, though for all that Trent is a powerful manager, his baser instincts remain: he’s still a bisexual philanderer.
Then there’s Clay’s childhood friend, Julian – who’s now a recovering addict – and their old dealer, Rip – face-lifted beyond recognition and seemingly even more sinister than he was in his notorious past. Clay, too, struggles with his own demons after a meeting with a gorgeous actress determined to win a role in his movie. And with his life careening out of control, he’s forced to come to terms with the deepest recesses of his character – and with his seemingly endless proclivity for betrayal.
Starred Review. Ellis explores what disillusioned youth looks like 25 years later in this brutal sequel to Less Than Zero. Clay, now a screenwriter, returns at Christmas to an L.A. that looks and operates much as it did 25 years ago. Trent is now a producer and married to Clay’s ex, Blair, while Julian runs an escort service and Rip, Clay’s old dealer, has had so much plastic surgery he’s unrecognizable. While casting a script he’s written, Clay falls for a young, untalented actress named Rain Turner, and his obsession and affair with her powers him through an alcoholic haze that swirls with images of death, mysterious text messages, and cars lurking outside his apartment. The story takes on a creepy noirish bent—with Clay as the frightened detective who doesn’t really want to know anything—as it barrels toward a conclusion that reveals the horror that lies at the center of a tortured soul. Ellis fans will delight in the characters and Ellis’s easy hand in manipulating their fates, and though the novel’s synchronicity with Zero is sublime, this also works as a stellar stand-alone. (June)