“I feel disconnected from reality” is a common enough sentiment, but when these words come from Rain Turner, the twenty-something actress who beds the protagonist Clay in Imperial Bedrooms, Bret Easton Ellis’s new novel and the sequel to his career-making debut, Less Than Zero, then chances are it’s more than just a feeling. The dean of disconnect is back, and if you have been wondering what ever happened to Clay, Blair, Julian, Rip, and the rest of the Beverly Hills brat pack who populated Easton Ellis’s memorable tour of decadent LA, circa 1984, then these Bedrooms are waiting for you. And if you haven’t read Less Than Zero, but you have fantasized about a world in which beautiful twenty-year-olds equate each producer’s bed with a step up the socio-economic latter, you should probably read it as well, because the legend of the Hollywood casting couch is still very much alive in this new Ellis novel.
Intergenerational hookups are everywhere in Imperial Bedrooms, and they are flaunted. The fifty-year-old movie producer is proud of his date that looks like his daughter, and to keep up appearances, the date has to hold onto his arm with her head high. It’s all part of the deal, which also likely involved some cocaine, an audition, or both. Ellis’s characters must have missed the memos announcing regulations across the country prohibiting affairs between students and professors, CEOs and interns, and the high-profile, career-ending missteps that have dimmed the glamour of the old-fashioned sexual quid pro quo. In the world according to Easton Ellis, the older generation in Hollywood still holds all the power and knows what is changing, and what is “happening.” But I wonder—dads today call their kids to ask how to turn on the computer screen or to learn what “the Facebook” is. Are there really young women today who are so out of touch with the professional atmosphere that they think they need to sleep with men three times their age to get ahead? Not from where I stand, as a junior at UCLA, with Westwood one of the ground zeroes of Ellisworld. And the ones that do exist—well, they know to keep their affairs on the hush-hush. Today it seems that what might open a door into one of Ellis’s Imperial Bedrooms, is likely to close many social and professional doors in the new real world.
While it’s hard to believe that the teenagers in Less Than Zero don’t have their fake Id’s scanned at any of the dozens of nightclubs they attend, and that Rain Turner is able to act excited night after night as Clay reaches for the Vicodin, there are some aspects of Imperial Bedrooms social analysis that do ring true. A book has either got to be eerily familiar, or a delightful invention—a “what if” world—to gain popularity, and Less Than Zero and Imperial Bedrooms manage to fulfill both these conditions some of the time. For instance, there will always be trust fund babies and a dangerous curiosity in teenagers. What if no one was watching them? And there will probably always be unhappy couples too, some of them even ravenous for a little youth in their bedroom. After all, what if their son’s beautiful teenage girlfriend said “yes”? Ellis suggests that all kinds of strange answers, and the trains of thought that lead to them, are believable reactions to a world that has become, well, not so believable. Which leads to the single most true-to-life dynamic of contemporary Los Angeles Ellis identifies in his new book—absolutely everyone, it seems, has a therapist.