The Informers (1994)
By: Julian on August 22, 2008  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Author: Bret Easton Ellis
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 264
How the Hell do you follow up something like American Psycho? Bret Easton Ellis was faced with this momentous task and, perhaps with uncharacteristic predictability, the follow-up was underwhelming. Ellis' decision to publish a collection of thirteen short stories resulted in a collage of ability – there are some sublime entries, though they are too often punctured by the mediocre to make the ensemble piece anything other than a very intriguing failure.

The crisp blurb on the new Picador edition of The Informers best describes the book – 'These stories capture the lives of a group of people in Los Angeles, suffering from nothing less than the death of the soul'. All of the stories have a common thread, and this has been transposed from American Psycho and, to a lesser extent, Ellis' two earlier works Less than Zero and The Rules of Attraction – the amorality of middle-upper class life, from yuppies, to college students. None of the characters think twice about popping Valium, downing Stoli by the litre or snorting endless lines of cocaine. There's nothing to it, and whether Ellis is commenting on the emptiness of a father-son relationship, two friends torn apart by distance or a vampire hungry for blood (in The Informers' most quizzical tale), this description of casual hedonism is loud and clear.

Three stories deserve a particular mention. The first, Letters from LA, are a series of letters from 'Anne' to 'Sean', the latter of whom is the protagonist Bateman from The Rules of Attraction, brother to titular nutjob Patrick in American Psycho. Anne has a lovelorn infatuation with Sean (she assures him that her new boyfriend is 'nothing to worry about') and the letters are written to him in a five-month period, none of which are replied to, and end on a tragically sour note.

The second is story ten in the collection, entitled The Secrets of Summer. Just what Ellis was thinking with this one, I don't know. Secrets tells the very macabre secret of Jamie, a somewhat androgynous vampire who stalks the streets of LA, sucking the blood of virginal women. This is one of The Informers' few horror stories, a sharply revolting work that recalls American Psycho in its descriptions of sex and violence. Similar, though far more amplified, is The Fifth Wheel,where Ellis hits his most appalling point as a shock author.

But I digress; to call Ellis a 'shock author' would be a definite disservice to the man. While The Informers still showcases the novelist's power to confront, the sparse nature of the work makes some stories successful at depicting the vapid characters Ellis chooses to portray, but as a whole ultimately feels as hollow and contrived as our protagonists. Because while Ellis writes well, at least seven or eight of the collection's thirteen stories are banal and trite – we've heard it all before, in chapters of his earlier books or better stories in this work, and Ellis has the tendency to become preachy. However, this banality is said to be part of The Informers' warped appeal, though I certainly didn't interpret the novel in that way. That said, when Ellis scores, he really scores. As a work, The Informers did something few novels have done – it bummed me out. I've never been so depressed to close a novel before and The Informers just ends – there's no payoff, nothing to put the mind of the reader at rest, and you end up feeling as morally bereft and vacant as the characters themselves.

Shooting wrapped for a film adaptation of Ellis' novel, from a script written by the author and Nicholas Jarecki, in December 2007. The picture was directed by Australian Gregor Jordan, and stars the late Brad Renfro and Billy Bob Thornton. As far as a book-to-film adaptation goes, this is perhaps a more ambitious project to tackle than Harron's American Psycho, and its success wholly depends on Ellis' ability to adapt his collection of stories to a coherent film form.

So, is The Informers a good book? I don't think so – it's too uneven to be a success, and while Ellis retains his sprawling, quasi-hypnotic writing style, the narratives themselves tend to become repetitive. There are only so many coke-fiend, PCP-addled pseudo-protagonists I can read about before the stories rapidly plumb the hackneyed depths of hedonism whose portrayals are as prosaic as the activities themselves. For Ellis fans, and I certainly am one, this is required reading simply to gauge where the author was at post-Psycho, and complete (at least thus far) a set of novels that have proven among the most significant in contemporary American literature. The average reader could probably avoid without trouble, though.
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