Bret Easton Ellis – The Shards – Review

When people ask me why I like to read violent stories so much, they have no idea how I connect with fiction. It’s not reality. But the regular non-fiction reader often doesn’t know how to approach fiction books.

When I first read American Psycho in 2005, I was going through a phase where I would’ve literally done physical harm to someone. (Or maybe I should’ve done so instead of reading that book because that person deserved it.) American Psycho became therapeutic in easing the anger because I could mentally reduce a lot of pain. You could say I was using a psychopath’s mind to balance my emotions, and it worked. Do I care that he primarily killed women…and a child? Not with how I read it back then; it could have been men for all I care. At least I had a man in mind at the time. Again, before you forget, I am referring to American Psycho as a piece of fiction. Fiction is a realm where you can be anything. Subjective.

The Shards is a semi-autobiographical piece based on Bret’s traumatic teenagehood in 1981. Forty years later, he finally decided to confront it. In the prologue, he claims he had tried to face his demons in 2010, but a severe panic attack rushed him to the hospital. 

So, instead, Imperial Bedrooms and White came to fruition.

I didn’t think his writing of over 590 pages would ever drag, but it did. The endless music references and obsessive reiteration of things said before. It clearly depicts the Humbert Humbert-inspired unreliable narrator as someone obsessive and insane. The constant flow of insanity was regularly numbed with Qualuude, Valium, and coke⁠—some of the most indicative drugs of the 1980s. And how boomer parents were failing their Gen-X kids.

The adolescent angst in everyone has the characters keep secrets, lie, and cheat. They’re so vague with each other; it’s painful. You could barely see them as best friends and lovers. The only thing that matters is what people see on the surface. Then, there is the plasticity of L.A. and its neighbourhoods⁠—a world that strikes me as a dreamland that doesn’t exist. But I like it that way.

I read it from a very subjective POV. I was still overly absorbed by it and had several nightmares about a serial killer on the loose and being Bret’s unsuspecting girlfriend who came quickly. Had someone else written it, I probably wouldn’t have given a shit. It would have struck me as overwritten. Most of the dialogue in this book was horrendous, repetitive, and vague.

The graphic details didn’t live up to American Psycho’s standards and didn’t do much for me. I didn’t think animal cruelty was necessary, and how they suffered more pain than humans. In some parts, it also read forced, as though Ellis needed to develop something creative at the last second. But it all had no meaning because it was already a “crime scene.” You’d rather know what was going through the killer’s mind as they were creating their “art.” And the narrator was insane enough to do it. Instead, Ellis chose for Bret to be repulsed by it, so the reader would somehow empathise with him throughout the story.

I enjoyed the metafictional elements and how they contributed to the narrator’s insanity: “I was hearing things that weren’t there because I was the writer.” It made you think he wasn’t really there, nor was he (or anyone) telling the truth.

It struck me as sweet that Ellis also writes with a soundtrack in the background⁠—songs relevant to his narrative and era, but the truth is the reader couldn’t give a shit about most of the music mentioned in the book. Even as a hardcore fan, I will not take note of any songs and make a mixtape out of them.

I suppose you must love Bret in order to enjoy at least 70% of The Shards. 

I also believe we all keep some serial killer chained to the basement wall, except they break free if your “tangible participant” fails you and your “dark passenger” makes you do things.

A favourite line of mine:

“…numbness as a feeling, numbness as a motivation, numbness as the reason to exist, numbness as ecstasy.”

I’m so numb again…I purposely stretched the reading time to three weeks to have some fiction to escape to every day. 


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