The oft-referenced Los Angeles billboard in Bret Easton Ellis' novel Less Than Zero reads simply: Disappear Here. While that normally evokes a sunny, beach bum getaway in beautiful southern California, it's the disappearance of any moral grounding and individuality that become the true meaning behind the phrase. Clay, a young college student home for winter break in the early 1980s, is our guide to the lifestyles of the rich and truly screwed-up, where everyone wears the best clothes, drives the newest cars, and parties all the time, but has nothing to show for it. Drugs and alcohol flow freely. Conversations mostly revolve around party plans and petty gossip. Teenagers don't know where their jet-setting parents are and don't seem to care about anything or anyone. Clay passively partakes in everything around him; he's barely noticeable as a character despite his status as the narrator. He doesn't judge his friends when they lead him into dangerous lifestyles, but he also doesn't fully join in. Clay rekindles a physical affair with his loving ex-girlfriend Blair but insists they're no longer together, allowing him the freedom to sleep with other girls and boys. He's vaguely aware of the moral unwinding of those closest to him, but is unwilling to stop it and is actually intrigued enough to watch it all happen.
This is a bleak world without a shining beacon of hope. Ellis tips his hand at what he thinks are some of the causes: the superficiality of Hollywood and Los Angeles in general, the massive amounts of wealth afforded to the teens, the lack of any decent parenting, a world where people do what they want simply because they can without any consequence. But you'd be hard pressed to find a critical voice in the tone of the storytelling. This is what separates Less Than Zero from other cautionary coming-of-age tales. Clay witnesses a society facing moral collapse and there are ample descriptions about how the characters are affected. Still, outside of any superficial comments, Clay isn't really critical of this kind of moral decomposition and the author allows the world around Clay to exist without a contradictory note. The restraint Ellis shows in revealing the meanings and themes of the novel are in stark contrast to the Twitter-like detail of Clay's horrifying winter break. The countless (and in some instances shocking) stories of teen life in Los Angeles in the '80s combine to create a general sense of societal decay and a kind of death permeates the environment. You're left wondering whether or not Clay will come back home after he returns to college.
Christian Rummel provides the voices of Clay and a cast of reckless teens and parents, as well as a psychiatrist more interested in himself than his patients. Rummel's Clay is a study of passivity, rarely rising above an impassioned whine in all his interaction with others. Everyone else sounds appropriately numb and detached. The teens are drugged up spoiled brats, bravely voiced as such with no pause for how obnoxious they may sound (but then again, that's the point). Rummel easily conveys the impatient cluelessness of valley girls and the cocky, surfer-like aloofness of the lost boys. For the majority of the book, the narration occurs at a disconnected, cool pace. But late in the novel, as Clay accompanies his best friend Julian to a hotel room to partake in desperate act of male prostitution for drug money, Rummel's performance takes on a slightly anxious, panicked tone. The change in pacing here and in a few other important scenes highlights Clay's motivations and is key to understanding the meaning of the novel. In this way and more, Rummel serves Ellis' delicate vision with expert skill. Josh Ravitz
Set in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, this coolly mesmerizing novel is a raw, powerful portrait of a lost generation who have experienced sex, drugs, and disaffection at too early an age, in a world shaped by casual nihilism, passivity, and too much money – a place devoid of feeling or hope.
Clay comes home for Christmas vacation from his Eastern college and re-enters a landscape of limitless privilege and absolute moral entropy, where everyone drives Porsches, dines at Spago, and snorts mountains of cocaine. He tries to renew feelings for his girlfriend, Blair, and for his best friend from high school, Julian, who is careering into hustling and heroin. Clay's holiday turns into a dizzying spiral of desperation that takes him through the relentless parties in glitzy mansions, seedy bars, and underground rock clubs, and also into the seamy world of L.A. after dark.
As an added bonus, when you purchase our Audible Modern Vanguard production of Bret Easton Ellis' book, you'll also get an exclusive Jim Atlas interview.
This production is part of our Audible Modern Vanguard line, a collection of important works from groundbreaking authors.
©1985 Bret Easton Ellis (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"Catcher in the Rye for the MTV generation." (USA Today)
"A killer - sexy, sassy, and sad.... It's a teenage slice-of-death novel, no holds barred." (Village Voice)
"One of the most disturbing novels I've read in a long time. It possesses an unnerving air of documentary reality." (The New York Times)
"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
I'm afraid I almost OD'd on L.A. novels this week. Started with 'Less than Zero', added 'The Black Dahlia', and finished with 'The Day of the Locusts'. Let me just say, I'm definitely not planning on moving to that City of Angels where people and their dreams both go to die. A visit of 3 days was just enough to reestablished my conviction.
I had a hard time deciding whether to read 'Less than Zero'. I hold B.E.E. with a certain level of contempt. My feelings about him are similar to Norman Mailer's:
"How one wishes this writer was without talent!"
I would only add, how I personally wish this writer was without a Twitter account. I debate in my mind if I could, with a switch, delete all of Twitter (every tweet) I think I would just to eliminate B.E.E.'s toxic presence there. Which is I guess throws me firmly into the Franzen camp (and not obviously into the Jennifer Weiner camp).
Ellis' novel is the best novel concerning Gen X. I read this novel over 10 years ago and listening to it just reminded me of the joy that I first experienced reading this novel for the first time.
Clay is my favorite character since the reader notices his transformation into a truly apathetic character.
The scenes where Clay keeps seeing the billboard "Disappear Here"
First of all, the narrator was fabulous. He was just right for this. The book does not have a false word in it, and the author succeeds in making the characters, rich wastrels though they are, into people I cared about. But, you'll be glad they don't live next door. Less Than Zero held my interest all the way through.
Addicted to Audible since 2009
I enjoyed the movie but absolutely loved the book. Ellis is an excellent writer and it's a shame the movie couldn't quite capture his writing abilities. He's so descriptive and details. Great musical references, lots of drugs and sex and overall, I'd certainly recommend this for anyone who could relate to the Hollywood lifestyle from back in the 80s.
A little too fucked up for me. I am all for the dark shit, but this is is meant to trigger people. I would have enjoyed it more when I was younger.
It has made me more hesitant to try another book in this genre.
I'm not sure if it was his narration or the material he was reading. The performances were actually quite good.
Disappointment and annoyance at the characters.
I think I was hoping for something a bit more similar to "Catcher in the Rye". I gave up about half way in to the recording when I had completely lost any sense of plot.
I've read Easton Ellis and enjoyed his satire. This book...I just didn't understand. Or maybe the underlying theme is that rich people are really morally poor. That's all I got. How he got there, to that point, was not interesting for me.
A tad boring. The Valley girl accents became annoying.
I think I hated this book, but I don't know why. So...the book had an effect on me which is probably good news for B. Easton Ellis. There were parts of the book that took you to the summit and then you couldn't figure out how to get back down because he just left you there and moved on with not a hint of follow-up anywhere. I really hated that.
I don't like much, but the things I like, I like intensely
A terrible book that serves as an interesting snapshot of a particular time and place and culture. Poorly written, poorly conceived, dull repulsive characters doing bad things. The "Kids" of its time. But brave, of Ellis, to portray the young and beautiful as so totally ugly.
You've got to be kidding! NEVER.
I think that's a fair statement.
Well, I did it, but I certainly don't feel good about it. This is the biggest waste of time and an excursion into utter moral depravity I can recall. The only redemption is Rummel's narration and his control of voices and accents. He's obviously a great talent as a reader. Too bad that Ellis is devoid of any.
Have every one of the characters in the book -- and the author, end up in the morgue, preferably before I had wasted 15 minutes on this detritus. I only wish my purchase had been in paper back format so I could shred it and put it in my compost. There it would at least have had some value.
Excuse me while I go get myself de-loused. Why anyone would buy, much less waste any time trying to read or listen to this is a mystery. This book would be over-priced at free. I wasted a half-credit getting it on the BOGO sale.
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