Biography of Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis is an American author and screenwriter whose debut novel Less Than Zero (1985) launched him to stardom at the age of 21. Ellis was raised in Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. He graduated from Bennington College, where his classmates included fellow future novelists Donna Tartt and Jonathan Lethem. Ellis was considered in the 1980s to be a member of what critics called the literary "Brat Pack"—a group of young, successful writers including Tama Janowitz, Jay McInerney, and Jill Eisenstadt. Like other works by Brat Pack authors, such as McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, Ellis's work adopts a dispassionate, cynical style to address disillusionment with the absurd, desensitizing aspects of modern urban life.

Less Than Zero, for example, tells the story of a college student named Clay who returns to Los Angeles over winter break to find his friends immersed in a sordid, amoral social milieu. The satirical and transgressive content of the novel, which Ellis says was inspired by Joan Didion and film noir, anticipates the themes of Ellis's later novels like The Rules of Attraction (1987) and American Psycho (1991), all of which set out in some way to critique the solipsistic, acquisitive nature of the Reagan-era United States. In 1987, 20th Century Fox produced a film adaptation of Less Than Zero starring Andrew McCarthy and Jami Gertz, an actress whose name is invoked multiple times in American Psycho as an object of Patrick's desire. Roger Avary also wrote and directed a film adaptation of The Rules of Attraction in 2002, distributed by Lions Gate Films.

A satirist and provocateur, Ellis's work has also been met by many critics with outrage and derision. The publication of American Psycho was a succès de scandale in the publishing world—after Time magazine ran excerpts from one of the book's most violent chapters, its original publisher Simon & Schuster refused to release it. Though it was at first an overwhelming critical failure, critics have since reappraised the novel for its satirical verve and transgressive, postmodern qualities. Mary Harron directed a modestly successful Hollywood adaptation of the novel in 2000 starring Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, reimagining the book as a black comedy.

In 2012, after years of preferring to label his sexuality in interviews as "indeterminate," Ellis publicly came out as gay. Since American Psycho, Ellis has written three novels—Glamorama (1998), Lunar Park (2005), and Imperial Bedrooms (2010)—and one short story collection, The Informers (1994). In 2013 Ellis also collaborated with director Paul Schrader, producing the screenplay for his film The Canyons (2013), starring Lindsay Lohan and porn actor James Deen. Most recently Ellis released an essay collection entitled White (2019), chronicling his life and career.

Study Guides on Works by Bret Easton Ellis

American Psycho is Bret Easton Ellis's third novel, released in 1991. The first-person narrator is a Wall Street investment banker named Patrick Bateman, who either is or imagines himself to be a prolific serial killer. Like other works which...