Book Review: Lunar Park an ambitious read

By Garth Paulson

Bret Easton Ellis is about as controversial as a novelist can be. The literary world is firmly divided along two lines when it comes to his prose: they either love it or loathe it. Those who sing his accolades do so on grounds of his sharply satirical, hip writing style and effortless ability to pinpoint the nihilism of youth. His detractors, or in many instances haters, view his work as sophomoric, fragmented and as in the case of his most notorious work, American Psycho, highly misogynistic.

Ellis attempts to address this conflict in his latest book, Lunar Park. Here the author casts himself as the main character and begins the work under autobiographical auspices claiming every word is true. Of course, this isn’t the case at all. After a brief introduction wherein Ellis recounts his career to date, the story finds him adjusting awkwardly to a new life as a suburban father married to an A-list actor.

From this innocent beginning Lunar Park tackles an ambitious number of topics and genres. The story revolves around Ellis’ family situation, both with his wife and children as well as his own parents. Though at first appearances the book looks like another father-son reconciliation story, and in many ways it is, Lunar Park also dives head first into magic realism, biography, meta-textual explanation, horror and typical Ellisian satire resulting in a somewhat tumultuous thriller.

Throughout the novel Ellis struggles to accustom himself to his new life as husband and father but everything around him is trying to make this impossible. His son Robby won’t connect with him, his house is slowly undergoing an inexplicable transformation into his old childhood home, his wife and neighbors think he is a good-for-nothing drug addict–often with good reason–local children are disappearing at an alarming rate and, to top it all off, Patrick Bateman, the central character of American Psycho, is running around re-enacting the heinous murders Ellis had him commit in real life. Needless to say, this whole ordeal shakes up Ellis considerably, who is in a continuous struggle to maintain a clear head and get to the bottom of his problems while attempting to overcome the desire to runaway like he would have earlier in his life.

Where Lunar Park shines is in Ellis’ usual strong areas. The book offers a cutting critique of North America’s fear-based culture every bit as humorous and disturbing as his previous attacks on ’80s excess and selfishness. In the world Ellis creates, terrorist attacks on American soil are a regular occurrence, causing everyone, including Ellis’ six year-old step-daughter, to live in a constant state of paranoia which can only be abated by multiple mood-altering medications. The story also offers Ellis’s customary excellent portrayal of youth, though in this case, unlike in his past work, from the outlook of an aging character who is trying to come to grips with the end of his own youth and his inability to understand today’s young people.

If the book has one major shortcoming it is its attempts at horror. Simply put, Lunar Park is not scary, at least when it tries to be. While Ellis has no problem writing a truly chilling portrayal of an era, his attempts at genuine, haunted-house-and-monsters horror falls flat, lessening the impact of the rest of the novel.

Faults aside, Lunar Park remains a powerful work thoroughly laced with vital satire and an engrossing plot. The book isn’t the apologia some critics have made it out to be, nor will it reconcile Ellis’ fans and bashers–in fact, it will likely only widen the gap. If these were the goals Ellis set out to accomplish with Lunar Park it can only be seen as a failure. Fortunately, as a piece of compelling fiction it excels.

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