Book #44

The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis

Through vignettes told in each of the characters's voices, readers have a kaleidoscopic view of clashing expectations and crushing frustrations, of adolescent dreams fueled by inchoate desires. The Rules of Attraction is a poignant--and sometimes hilarious--evocation of college life in the 1980s.

There’s something hypnotic about reading Ellis’s depiction of American college life in the eighties. Although it’s mostly what you would expect, he portrays each of his characters as selfish, child-like adults, endlessly pursuing what they what - mainly sex, drugs, or the possession of other people.

Written in multiple-voice narrative, it’s interesting to read the accounts of mostly manbabies and one woman. What’s particularly interesting is the differences in their descriptions of situations where they find themselves together. Some leave parts out which another narrator leaves in, some remember events happening differently, whether deliberately or otherwise. It left me unhinged; I didn’t know who was telling the truth, and the whole thing was immeasurably unreliable. But isn’t that just the way of substance-fuelled memories, of people regretting their decisions, and of anyone trying to recount college life.

Ellis deals with a lot of heavy topics here, including homosexuality, suicide, poor mental health, and abortion. None of these things were as readily discussed or accepted when the book was written, and it was something of a comfort to see them (with the exception of suicide) normalised and accepted.

And it’s true what he’s trying to say here - for all of us, whether you like it or not, going to college or university immediately from high school does not make us adults. There’s so much temptation, so much fuckery, so much other stuff to experience and deal with that has no relation to your studies, that it’s simply just a way of extending childhood and delaying the inevitable onslaught of adulthood.

I did feel there was a certain pointlessness to this book; a stew of chaotic experiences mixed in with fabrications and shagging. And despite this, I really enjoyed it and stormed my way through, becoming very sorry I did so when I reached the final page. I’d love to read this again and pick apart some of the more complex themes, but for now it’s time to graduate.