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Editorial Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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 that begins when the audiobook ends.

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.

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • 3.7 out of 5.0
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Story

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  • Story

Messed up. But listen to the author commentary.

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • steve
  • kearny, NJ, United States
  • 09-18-10

Realistically good

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 09-21-13

How one wishes this writer was without talent!

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).

18 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
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  • Story

Full of atmosphere of a certain time and place

Any additional comments?

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A window into 80's culture

Would you try another book from Bret Easton Ellis and/or Christian Rummel?

Yes. I have "American Psycho" in paperback. I think it will be easier to read than this book was to listen to. "Less than zero" was really a patchwork of stories and a little tricky to follow all the characters that had very similar names and nearly the same personality types. Only the villains were memorable.

Who was your favorite character and why?

None.....All the characters were just not noteworthy or admirable which was sort of the point of the author.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

Rummel was a good narrator but some of his female renditions were sounding to much like the mother character in "Bob Burger's", He did do Blair well.

Was Less Than Zero worth the listening time?

Yes it was still a very good but the chapters were so varied in length especially chapter 5. I like other readers may read a chapter at a time and it is annoying that a chapter is longer than 40 pages, I'm not sure how long chapter 5 is in the book other than that it is over an hour of listening time.

Any additional comments?

There was a lot of physical description of people and places that were excellent, I wish that at least the main characters had more development but that was intentionally done by the author, He didn't want the reader to like or identify with them.and I can appreciate that. Some parts I did want to skip over because they were that distasteful but didn't. I may listen to this title again because the story was a little disjointed but still interesting and complex.. I wouldn't have had the patience to read the actual book I believe.

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Rich kids rape and trick for drugs

Didn't really care for this book, very overrated and disgusting book. All the characters are useless, wastes of time with no morals or real loyalty to each other or themselves. Clay the main character is the worst of them all cuz he just watches all this sodomy and rape go on, including a 12 yr old girl! and never does anything! Hell he even goes out with one of the guys later after the rape! shocks just to shock with no real value.

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Not My Type of Story

Would you try another book from Bret Easton Ellis and/or Christian Rummel?

Probably not.

Has Less Than Zero turned you off from other books in this genre?

It has made me more hesitant to try another book in this genre.

What didn’t you like about Christian Rummel’s performance?

I'm not sure if it was his narration or the material he was reading. The performances were actually quite good.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment and annoyance at the characters.

Any additional comments?

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.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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I must be missing something...

Would you try another book from Bret Easton Ellis and/or Christian Rummel?

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.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

Now idea.

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

A tad boring. The Valley girl accents became annoying.

Do you think Less Than Zero needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

No.

Any additional comments?

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.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Just not my thing

Narrator was good but stories about druggies and dysfunctional, apathetic, teenagers is just too depressing.
Wish I'd chosen something else.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Read with 1.5 speed

Good book. I understand what he is doing with the characters. The life portrait he paints is unbelievably soulless and narcissistic. This dude invented desperate house wives and Paris Hilton, or at least shined a light on them. All that being said it gets repetitive after a while and makes you feel like you have spent the last hour reading about nothing. Pretty amazing to think this guy wrote this book when he was 19

0 of 1 people found this review helpful