I Read Bret Easton Ellis’ ‘The Shards’.

steve cuocci
6 min readJun 19, 2023

I loved American Psycho, the movie when I first saw it. I had no real read on it other than an edgy, “Whoa boy, that guy is CRAZY!” type of sensation when I first saw it. I wasn’t really A Reader at the time, maybe diving into a fantasy novel here and there (mainly The Prism Pentad series by Troy Denning, along with the Anne Rice vampire novels when I was DEEP in my goth phase), so I never thought to try out the book. In fact, I think some of the earliest books that I started reading that were not distinctly fantasy (oh! Vampire: the Masquerade fiction, like the Masquerade of the Red Death was huge for me too) were books based on movies I liked. Fight Club is a great example of that. When I read through American Psycho the novel, I don’t think I took points of style or ego into play, instead trying to closely draw parallels to the movie and letting the imagery be drawn from Bale’s Patrick Bateman, instead of allowing myself to paint this new and lush picture in my mind. It wasn’t until I saw the film Rules of Attraction and later (possibly way later?) found out that the same author that wrote American Psycho wrote that, I really wanted to dive into their work.

Less Than Zero and The Informers later, I was a huge fan. I loved the vapidity, the sleek LA Nothing, the ruthless and meaningless drugs they used, the way that everything and everyone (themselves included) were disposable, tossable, questionable, suspicious. I loved that everything felt like a lie, and the characters owned it, went shoulder deep into the terror of living falsehoods, getting cleansed by an intermittent deluge of Truth, and then returning to the hollow lives they had put together of themselves. I loved the way that Ellis could portray vacuous vanity.

This book released on my birthday this year, and came up as an option on my wife’s Book of the Month list and I was excited to try it out. It looked hefty, and it was a long time since I’d checked out one of his books (though I’d always had an idea to try to run back through his work as well). I had a lot on my shelves to get through this year and the excited feeling of finally “getting up to” The Shards was something I hadn’t felt in a while (honestly, the feeling of jumping right into Mother Howl from Clevenger is close!) and carrying this nice, thick 590 page book was a really good feeling. [Un]Fortunately, I could not put this book down for long, every time I picked it up. 50 pages turned into 70, into 100. I loved it.

This is a book that rings a little bit differently than his other books (from what I remember). There is still the privilege. A lot of it does still take place in a tier of Los Angeles that few will touch, few will relate to or get a chance to indulge in. These kids are in high school in the 1980s, and lots of references are made to Ellis’ taste in music, in the movies they watched, in the clothes they wore. What was in style at the time comes through the words, and it does feel like a total throwback. I could hear the music, could feel the differences in the modern era and now. Life felt a bit more deliberate. In these high schoolers lives, I think there was a bit more humanity in their interactions than I remember from most of his books previously. While there are moments of disconnection, I think this book deals with the characters’ desires a little bit more primally, a little bit less concerned with the rat race and the social ladder. It feels more like these are already the cool kids, already the ones who are the kings and queens of Status, the untouchable ones, so there is less concern of climbing the ranks and more focus on the veracity to stay there.

From the main character’s perspective (a meta version of the author), a lot of this story feels a bit like a mystery and as we read the details in his day to day, we start to put together pieces alongside him. The major focus of this story lies on Ellis’ obsession with Robert, The New Kid At School, and the author’s belief that Robert is in line with (or actually is) a serial killer who has been roving through LA and killing girls their age. While Bret is finding clues and doing some shoddy and conspicuous detective work of his own, I was also putting together little details that were mentioned along the way. I think the way that we were going through the book with the author and trying to find little hints and little ways to follow the breadcrumbs was pretty addicting. I don’t often read this type of book, so it was new to me. Not only was I living for the melodramatic interactions of hormonal high school seniors, I was hungry for answers that would come in patient chunks about a serial killer who was committing unspeakable acts to their friends and acquaintances. The closer the Trawler got to the main friend group, the more that we started to see the cycle start to repeat itself in the lives of the Buckley seniors, the more heightened my awareness became.

I will say, a good portion of this book is dedicated to a little bit of ludeness, something that I believe I could have done without. Lots of casual masturbation could have saved some paragraphs. There is a good amount of 16–19 year old sex and a lot of it is a bit graphic, and I think when it comes to profiling the way that our narrator thinks, it’s a bit necessary at times, but also sometimes feels a little gratuitous. There’s a lot of talk of Spicy Literature that I’ve seen make its way into a lot of more modern writing, and I mean, I think I can do without it. It’s not that I prefer detachment, but I think a bit of restraint can convey a lot of similar feelings if written correctly. This comes more of a ‘warning’ than a criticism, as I know that it can come off as “offensive” or distracting to some. I didn’t mind it, though I don’t think it added anything to the book.

As far as the ending goes, I’ve read a few takes on it that claim the ending leaves us with no answers and/or give little explanation of the reality of what happened. I have my own opinions on what played out, and from my perspective, I feel like what the conclusion of the book is felt almost a little too obvious and lacked a bit of the nuance of what he was trying to pull off. Regardless, I like where they went with it. I think as you read about the Trawler, as you read about its victims, and you read about some of the ways that they describe the murders, the crime scenes and their exploits, I think (especially within the Ellis-verse) it all comes together very well.

I loved this book! In a way, I think it’s kind of ironic that it feels like a really great entry-level book from the author as I don’t think it has the same sophistication as most of his other novels, but I think it does give a great idea of Los Angeles as he sees it, and really establishes the boundaries of where he’s willing to go and creates a mindset of what the characters he chooses to embody are like. Definitely going to be recommending this one!

--

--