This is my year of horrible reading. I am
reading the classics of horror fiction during the
course of 2016, and each week will write about
a significant work in the genre. You are invited
to join me in my
annus horribilis. During the
course of the year
if we survivewe will
have tackled zombies, serial killers, ghosts,
demons, vampires, and monsters of all
denominations. Check back each week for a
new title...but remember to bring along garlic,
silver bullets and a protective amulet.  
T.G.
A Critic Responds
to Bret Easton Ellis's
American Psycho

Essay by Ted Gioia
"In the procedures I would urge," critic Stanley Fish writes, "the reader's
activities are at the center of attention, where they are regarded not as leading to
meaning but as having meaning."



















Fish, of course, doesn't have much style sense. A photo I’ve found online shows
him in a cheesy tan blazer with wide-notched lapels, poorly fitting around the
shoulders, over a flimsy dirt-colored cotton T-shirt.  I would recommend an
Ermenegildo Zegna two-buttoned jacket, light gray in a textured basketweave,
and a Luigi Borrelli iceberg white cotton shirt—close spread collar preferred,
although Professor Fish might want to substitute a button-down on lecture
days.

Yes, he’s a Fish out of water when it comes to clothing. But when our eminent
professor situates meaning in the response of the reader, I say Damn straight!
And as I read through Bret Easton Ellis’s
American Psycho, I contemplated my
own inimitable response to this sanguinary text.

I took time to gather the tools necessary for my "reader’s response." These
included a DeWalt 14 ounce framing hammer, an assortment of  mid-size nails,
a Bernzomatic propane-fueled soldering torch lighter, a bottle of sulfuric acid at
88% strength, a pair of Fiskar orange-handled scissors, and a 20 ml bottle of
White Out.

"People write or speak sentences in order to produce an effect," Stanley Fish
reminds us, "and the success of a sentence is measured by the degree to which
the desired effect has been achieved." I note that Professor Fish's father was a
plumber, an immigrant from Poland, and no doubt had great facility with the full
array of heavy-duty tools.

I take inspiration from this precedent, and try to apply it to my reading of
American Psycho. In this instance, I would like to begin with the nails, but once
they are hammered into place, I won’t be able to open the book—and thus
cannot "respond" to the text at the granular level it deserves.  So instead, I
take up the torch lighter and apply a light burn to the title page and author's bio.

I now shake the White Out bottle to stir up the contents, and begin applying
the chemical whitener to references to various fashion designers in Ellis’s book.
This is a meticulous, time-consuming process.  I find that Armani is mentioned
forty times in this novel, Ralph Lauren thirty-one times, Rolex twenty-five
times, Bill Blass twelve times, etc. etc. But after I've finished, I still have
enthusiasm for more "reader’s response."

The time has come to provide my "response" to the photo of the author on the
back cover.  This begins with the orange-handled scissors, which allow me to
gently scrape and then, eventually, poke out the author's eyes. Now I apply a
thin sheen of the acid, and watch the gradual discoloration and dissolution of both
photo and back cover. Only now do I turn to the front cover, where I use my
remaining White Out to provide an inspiring "reader’s response" to the Robert
Erdmann photo.

Now I return to the torch lighter, seeking out the most atrocious passages—but
where to begin with such lightweight prose? Yet I pick and choose, and
gradually burn the worst offenders out of the text.

"The shaping power of language cannot be avoided," Professor Fish proclaims.
"We cannot choose to distance ourselves from it. We can only choose to employ
it in one way rather than another.” I find employing Ellis’s language as tinder
to light my next barbecue resonates with postmodern significance. I only hope
it doesn't ruin the taste of the blood sausage I plan on grilling tonight.

But the dead husk of the book still remains, and I realize I still have one more
responsibility as a reader. I grasp my DeWalt hammer in one hand and several
nails in the other, and proceed to close this novel permanently. This is my gift
to posterity, my attempt to prevent anyone else from opening this abattoir
in the guise of a novel, the pages hardly worth recycling in the bottom of a
bird cage or around the remains of a slowly rotting fish. (The latter should
not be confused with a Fish—note the capital F; those come wrapped, not in
paper, but in unappealing dirt-colored cotton T-shirts.)

Ah, after I finish all this, I am surprisingly empty, drained of emotion. I
expected something more from this experience, a kind of liberation and
transcendence. But I don’t despair. There is always next time. I hear the Bret
Easton Ellis has written other books, and I intend to seek these out and see what
kind of response they engender. But first I need to go back to Home Depot and
restock my reading tools.  


Ted Gioia writes on music, literature and popular culture. His latest book is
Love Songs: The Hidden History, published by Oxford University Press.

Publication date: March 27, 2016.
Check out our sister sites:

Conceptual Fiction
Exploring the non-realist
tradition in fiction

The New Canon
Great literary works
published since 1985

Great Books Guide
Reviews of current books

Postmodern Mystery
Experimental  works of
mystery & suspense

Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/tedgioia
Contact Ted Gioia at
tedgioia@hotmail.com

Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter:
www.twitter.com/tedgioia

Visit his web site at
www.tedgioia.com

Fractious Fiction is
an
Amazon.com associate


Disclosure:  This web site and its sister
sites may receive promotional copies
of review items and other materials
from publisher, publicists and other
parties.
My Year of Horrible Reading

Week 1:
Dracula
By Bram Stoker

Week 2:
The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Week 3:
Tales of Mystery & Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe

Week 4:
Carrie
By Stephen King

Week 5:
The Passion According to G.H.
By Clarice Lispector

Week 6:
Tales
By H.P. Lovecraft

Week 7:
The Exorcist
By William Peter Blatty

Week 8:
The Woman in Black
By Susan Hill

Week 9
Nausea
By Jean-Paul Sartre

Week 10:
I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson

Week 11:
Ghost Stories of Henry James
By Henry James

Week 12:
Interview with the Vampire
By Anne Rice

Week 13
American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis

Coming Next Week:
William T. Vollmann
 BEFORE CRITIC'S RESPONSE                AFTER CRITIC'S RESPONSE
A CRITIC RESPONDS TO BRET EASTON ELLIS'S AMERICAN PSYCHO
Featured Essays

The Adventurer's Guide to
Finnegans Wake

The Rise of the Fragmented
Novel

Virginia Woolf's Orlando

The First Postmodern Novel?

William Gaddis's The
Recognitions

The Many Lives of James Joyce

A Fresh Look at The Man
Without Qualities

Three Experimental Novels on
Music

The Novels of John  Fowles:
A Reassessment

The Weirdest 1960s Novel of
Them All

The Making of Ulysses

Buddenbrooks and the Novel of
Business

William T. Vollmann and the
Bumbling Shostakovich

Three Existential Horror Novels

Italo Calvino's Winter's Night

Can a Dictionary be a Novel?

William Burroughs, Abstinence
Teacher

Ken Kesey's Novel-in-a-Box

The Magic Mountain and Mein
Kampf

Why Only Revolutions Will Not
be Televised

Three Literary Gossip Novels

My Favorite American Novel

The Finnegans Wake Toolkit

Manhattan Transfer: The
American Novel as Scrapbook

William Burroughs's Mexican
Adventure

Still Golden After All These
Years: A Look Back at Lessing

William Gaddis's Eight Rules of
Unruly Dialogue

A Solipsistic Novel Finds a
Reader

Raymond Queneau's Exercises
in Style

Escape from Mango Street

Revisiting James Joyce's
Dubliners

Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo

Life A User's Manual

A Critic Responds to American
Psycho

William Gaddis's JR: The Eleven-
Year-Old Tycoon

Harper Lee and the Great
Southern Novel

John Dos Passo's Obsession
with Reflected Light

How Rebecca Got R-E-S-P-E-C-T