Less Than Zero

Less Than Zero

by Bret Easton Ellis


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Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

Set in Los Angeles in the early 1980's, Less than Zero has become a timeless classic. 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.  They live in a world shaped by casual nihilism, passivity, and too much money in 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 Porches, 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679781493
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/28/1998
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 106,004
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Bret Easton Ellis is the author of five novels, including Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho, Glamorama, Lunar Park, and Imperial Bedrooms, and a collection of stories, The Informers. His works have been translated into twenty-seven languages. Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho, and The Informers have all been made into films. He lives in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles. This is the first thing I hear when I come back to the city. Blair picks me up from LAX and mutters this under her breath as her car drives up the onramp. She says, "People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles." Though that sentence shouldn't bother me, it stays in my mind for an uncomfortably long time. Nothing else seems to matter. Not the fact that I'm eighteen and it's December and the ride on the plane had been rough and the couple from Santa Barbara, who were sitting across from me in first class, had gotten pretty drunk. Not the mud that had splattered the 1egs of my jeans, which felt kind of cold and loose, earlier that day at an airport in New Hampshire. Not the stain on the arm of the wrinkled, damp shirt I wear, a shirt which had looked fresh and clean this morning. Not the tear on the neck of my gray argyle vest, which seems vaguely more eastern than before, especially next to Blair's clean tight jeans and her pale-blue T-shirt. All of this seems irrelevant next to that one sentence. It seems easier to hear that people are afraid to merge rather than "I'm pretty sure Muriel is anorexic" or the singer on the radio crying out about magnetic waves. Nothing else seems to matter to me but those ten words. Not the warm winds, which seem to propel the car down the empty asphalt freeway, or the faded smell of marijuana which still faintly permeates Blair's car. All it comes down to is that I'm a boy coming home for a month and meeting someone whom I haven't seen for four months and people are afraid to merge.

Blair drives off the freeway and comes to a red light. A heavy gust of wind rocks the car for a moment and Blair smiles and says something about maybe putting the top up and turns to a different radio station. Coming to my house, Blair has to stop the car since there are these five workmen lifting the remains of palm trees that have fallen during the winds and placing the leaves and pieces of dead bark in a big red truck, and Blair smiles again. She stops at my house and the gate's open and I get out of the car, surprised to feel how dry and hot it is. I stand there for a pretty long time and Blair, after helping me lift the suitcases out of the trunk, grins at me and asks, "What's wrong?" and I say, "Nothing," and Blair says, "You look pale," and I shrug and we say goodbye and she gets into her car and drives away.

Nobody's home. The air conditioner is on and the house smells like pine. There's a note on the kitchen table that tells me that my mother and sisters are out, Christmas shopping. From where I'm standing I can see the dog lying by the pool, breathing heavily, asleep, its fur ruffled by the wind. I walk upstairs, past the new maid, who smiles at me and seems to understand who I am, and past my sisters' rooms, which still both look the same, only with different GQ cutouts pasted on the wall, and enter my room and see that it hasn't changed. The walls are still white; the records are still in place; the television hasn't been moved; the venetian blinds are still open, just as I had left them. It looks like my mother and the new maid, or maybe the old maid, cleaned out my closet while I was gone. There's a pile of comic books on my desk with a note on top of them that reads, "Do you still want these?"; also a message that Julian called and a card that says "Fuck Christmas" on it. I open it and it says "Let's Fuck Christmas Together" on the inside, an invitation to Blair's Christmas party. I put the card down and notice that it's beginning to get really cold in my room.

I take my shoes off and lie on the bed and feel my brow to see if I have a fever. I think I do. And with my hand on my forehead I look up with caution at the poster encased in glass that hangs on the wall above my bed, but it hasn't changed either. It's the promotional poster for an old Elvis Costello record. Elvis looks past me, with this wry, ironic smile on his lips, staring out the window. The word "Trust" hovering over his head, and his sunglasses, one lens red, the other blue, pushed down past the ridge of his nose so that you can see his eyes, which are slightly off center. The eyes don't look at me, though. They only look at whoever's standing by the window, but I'm too tired to get up and stand by the window.

I pick up the phone and call Julian, amazed that I actually can remember his number, but there's no answer. I sit up, and through the venetian blinds I can see the palm trees shaking wildly, actually bending, in the hot winds, and then I stare back at the poster and then turn away and then look back again at the smile and the mocking eyes, the red and blue glasses, and I can still hear people are afraid to merge and I try to get over the sentence, blank it out. I turn on MTV and tell myself I could get over it and go to sleep if I had some Valium and then I think about Muriel and feel a little sick as the videos begin to flash by.


On Saturday, June 13th, the barnesandnoble.com Author Auditorium was excited to welcome Bret Easton Ellis, who joined us to discuss his books LESS THAN ZERO and THE RULES OF ATTRACTION.

Moderator: Welcome, Bret Easton Ellis! Thank you for joining us online this evening. How are you doing tonight?

Bret Easton Ellis: I am doing great.

John from JWC901@aol.com: How did you get your first book published? Is it true you were still in college?

Bret Easton Ellis: Yes, I published LESS THAN ZERO in the spring of 1985, while I was a junior at Bennington College. I wrote a draft for a tutorial, while I was a freshman, for my teacher, Joe McGinniss. He read it and thought it was a total mess -- you must understand that at this point it was 500 pages long and in the third person. He helped edit it, and I rewrote it a couple of times. Then he submitted it to his editor and agent. It took off from there.

Bryan from Aurora, CO: What was your initial reaction when your original publisher decided to can AMERICAN PSYCHO right before it was published?

Bret Easton Ellis: My initial reaction was shock and disbelief. Mostly because there really didn't seem to be any warning, and the publisher canceled it two months before publication. So even though there had been some prepub controversy, everyone assumed that it would be published by S&S. So when it was canceled it was the end of November 1990, and it was slated to be published in January 1991. It seemed the publication was going to happen, and it was canceled so close that it was a huge surprise and very dismaying, because I had published both my earlier books with S&S and thought we had a very good relationship. Also, losing my editor was very sad.

Hillary from Oak Park, IL: Are you a fan of Will Self?

Bret Easton Ellis: I always feel awkward talking about writers who I am friends with and their work. I have known Will for about three or four years, and I think he is a great guy, and I respect him very much as a writer. His ambitions, his use of metaphor, his intelligence. But I have had difficulty with some of his books, and sometimes I think he is a little too ambitious, a little too brainy, and at times a little too show-offy. But these are flaws that most writers would aspire to. I have to admit that at times I am not intelligent enough to grasp a lot of what he is saying, but I also think he is a wonderful journalist in addition to his work in novels and very fun on a night out.

Steven from Sacramento, CA: How many of your characters would you say you almost completely base on people you know or knew?

Bret Easton Ellis: I don't think that I have ever consciously written a character that is fully based on anyone I know or have met. Most of the characters in my work seem to be part of a group that is representative of something going on in the culture at the time. It is very hard for me to differentiate from any of the college kids in RULES OF ATTRACTION. I went to Bennington, and I knew a lot of people there. But when I wrote the book the characters were mostly composites, or there were things going on at the time in my generation that I thought were representative of something else. And so that is where my idea of character comes from. Again in LESS THAN ZERO, Clay, who everybody thought was my autobiographical alter ego, to me was a metaphor of the danger of passivity. So when I was writing this book, that is what I was thinking about. The same could go for Patrick Bateman of AMERICAN PSYCHO. He was representative of a lot of the ills in the culture at that moment, and Patrick became for me the embodiment for those social problems, so I would have to say as of yet, I really haven't written an autobiographical character or someone based on my friends.

Mike from Sudbury, MA: Why did you decide to end AMERICAN PSYCHO with the character still at large? What was that supposed to say about the '80s or culture in general?

Bret Easton Ellis: So many of the decisions one makes while writing a book don't necessarily become apparent until after you have actually written the book. And to me Patrick Bateman's not being caught or paying for his crimes at the time to me seemed to be an apt metaphor for the timelessness of evil. And I didn't know that that idea -- of Patrick Bateman's not being caught -- would cause as much controversy as it did. That people would be able to accept the violence if indeed he had been jailed. But I have always felt he is trapped in the world that he is a part of -- a world that seems to give him no pleasure. So when the last words were seen at the end, "This is not an exit," this seems to relate the hopelessness of Patrick's situation. And I think the book would ultimately become meaningless as satire, if Patrick were caught and had to pay for his crimes.

Pac87@aol.com from xx: Good evening, Mr. Ellis. I can't wait to read your new book...have you been working on it since THE INFORMERS?

Bret Easton Ellis: I actually began GLAMORAMA the last week (I remember this very clearly) of December 1989, about two weeks after I finished the final draft of AMERICAN PSYCHO, and it took me now eight years to complete. I had not planned on taking eight years out of my life to write a book, but a lot of things happened during those eight years that distracted me, including the publication and controversy of AMERICAN PSYCHO, the death of my father, and the breakup of a long relationship I had been in. All of these things tended to conspire against the completion of GLAMORAMA. Add to this the fact that I owed a book to my publishers, who wanted me to put out a book in 1994, which was THE INFORMERS, a collection of short stories that I had written from about 1983 to 1992. And then touring for that book also took up a large chunk of time, and so what was supposed to have been maybe a three-year endeavor turned into -- quite rapidly -- an eight-year-long involvement with the book. So actually, GLAMORAMA is the first novel I will have published since AMERICAN PSYCHO.

Niki from Niki_palek@yahoo.com: Is Patrick Bateman based on either yourself or people you knew? Was a lot if it derived from what you saw in New York City or from what you heard?

Bret Easton Ellis: Patrick Bateman was initially based on a lot of real bad feelings I was getting living in New York City, at the height of the Reagan era. Manhattan at that time seemed to me to be a planet inhabited almost solely by yuppies and by this very greedy, status-oriented society. That depression and the anger and disgust I felt toward this society fueled the creation of Patrick Bateman, but I also have to admit that in many ways the creation of that character also had a lot to do with where I was at my life at the time. I can't really pull myself out of that gutter and say that I wasn't part of that world. I think in many ways I found myself quite easily slipping in and out of that place, and my reaction and self-loathing and horror helped me write that book. I wasn't killing prostitutes in my apartment, but there were definitely certain things about Patrick's life that I could relate to as a young man in New York City at that time.

Montana from Santa Monica, CA: Do you think heroin is to the '90s what coke was to the '80s? Judging from a majority of the media, it certainly seems that way.

Bret Easton Ellis: Hmmmm...a drug question...I can only speak for the world I see around me and the people I come in contact with and the cities that I lived in -- Los Angeles and New York. And I don't really think coke has left either city, it seems very prevalent in both places -- that could also have to do with the certain crowd that I interact with, but I meet a lot of people outside of my crowd, and it seems pretty prevalent there as well. Heroin didn't seem to jibe with the "rah-rah" decade of the '80s, where everyone was racing around accumulating things -- coke seemed to fit into that mode. I guess I come into contact with a lot of college students and am surprised continually and am surprised about heroin and that it is to them the drug of choice, in the way that coke was the drug of choice for my generation.

Dave Anderson from East Village, NYC: Whom would you consider the greatest satirist of the 20th century?

Bret Easton Ellis: What an interesting question. The greatest satirist of the 20th century...hmmm...no one comes to mind immediately. I just automatically think of the writers of the 20th century that I intensely admire, and I suppose to some degree I think most great writing has elements of satire in it. I think of John Updike's Rabbit series, and even though you wouldn't automatically think it is a satire, so much of the culture he describes is very critical, so I guess there is satire embedded in that work. Don DeLillo, who I think is the greatest American writer, but I wouldn't call him a satirist, despite the great deal of satire in his work. I think Joan Didion definitely uses elements of satire in describing people and events and things she witnessed, but I wouldn't consider her a satirist either. That is a question that I can't give you a list of names for, so you have stumped me. I have never been asked this, so this will probably haunt me for weeks to come.

Brad from Ontario, Canada: What do you know about the production company that bought the film rights to AMERICA PSYCHO?

Bret Easton Ellis: Very little. It is called Lions Gate, and they came into this project late in the game. I have never spoken to anyone connected with Lion's Gate Films, but they said that they would put up the money to make the movie this spring.

Ken from San Francisco, CA: Where did you get your ideas for the torturing of the people in AMERICAN PSYCHO? Just curious...

Bret Easton Ellis: Well, I knew when I was outlining AMERICAN PSYCHO that there would be violent pages and torture scenes. I knew that I couldn't think these scenes up on my own, nor did I want to go there, so I asked a reporter I know for advice. He gave me access to FBI textbooks that went into fairly graphic descriptions of what certain serial killers or murderers have done to their victims. I suppose you can also add the fact that I had read -- like most young people of my generation -- a lot of Stephen King, so it wasn't that difficult to write about violence. And I think you must understand that growing up in America as a teenager in the '80s there were two or three slasher films opening at the local multiplex. I don't think it was that difficult once I realized what I had to do with the scenes to actually write them, but being in the head of Patrick Bateman also helped a lot with the writing of these scenes.

Eugene from Westwood, CA: DO you prefer New York or Los Angeles? Why?

Bret Easton Ellis: I couldn't wait to get out of L.A. as a teenager, and I very consciously decided to go to college back east. L.A. for a long time, even after I left, seemed to me to be a very sinister, ominous place and a lot of my friends, I thought, got messed up because of the personality of the city. Though lately, I find myself returning more and more to L.A. and to actually, at 34, spending a little less than half the year living there, and my attitude about the city has changed considerably. I suppose it is because I am older and don't take the city as seriously as I once did. I think it is an almost childlike place that the 18-year-old in me found ominous, but the older person that I am now finds it actually quite playful and easy to live in -- especially after visiting the Getty Museum. It is actually the one city in the U.S. that I think is most representative of the millennium.

Mike Muntz from MMuntz@yahoo.com: I am a huge fan of your books...any plans in motion to make THE RULES OF ATTRACTION into a movie?

Bret Easton Ellis: Yes, as of now, THE RULES OF ATTRACTION is being rewritten by Roger Avary, who cowrote "Pulp Fiction," and he is slated to direct. This has also been a long, arduous road, but finally it looks like it might be happening quite soon.

Jones from Fairfield, CT: Good evening, Mr. Ellis. Whom would you consider some of your literary influences?

Bret Easton Ellis: Well, to take care of the obvious ones -- definitely Hemingway and Joan Didion. Increasingly, I have been influenced by Don DeLillo, James Joyce, and Thomas Pynchon -- not necessarily for stylistic reasons, but the breadth and scope of their vision is inspiring. At the same time, there are writers whom I simply love that haven't been major influences, such as Norman Mailer, John Updike, and Philip Roth, whom I just enjoy reading for pleasure.

Jonas from Boston, MA: Whom would you consider some of the best musical artists to come out of the '80s?

Bret Easton Ellis: My favorite band in the '80s was the Replacements -- but I understand (though maybe I am wrong) the tenor of that question -- because looking back there really wasn't that much great music being made. Of course there was R.E.M. and U2. But overall, it is not a decade that I remember fondly for its music. Actually, it is not a decade that I remember fondly at all. So during the '80s I discovered a lot of older music that I had missed out on -- so I guess that was cool.

Maria from Metaire, LA: How do you think your early success as a writer has affected your writing? Do you think it had a positive, negative, or no effect?

Bret Easton Ellis: I think a little bit of all three. I suppose the positive effect that early success can have is that it gives you an enormous amount of confidence, which every writer needs badly in order to get through the painful process of writing a novel. This also can apply to the negative side, which is that early success makes you feel invulnerable to any outside forces, and you tend to believe everything you write should be untouched by editors, and it is a masterpiece. I think early success for a writer doesn't necessarily warp his work. What it can do is warp the world you live in. It can play games with your head, but I always knew what I wanted to do with my fiction, and success or failure has really played no role in the writing of any the books I have completed so far. It might have screwed up my personal life to a degree, but it hasn't really affected the books.

Moderator: Thank you very much! Best of luck with GLAMORAMA, and we would love to have you again when that book is released.

Bret Easton Ellis: It was great being here. And I look forward to doing an online chat when GLAMORAMA is released.

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Less Than Zero 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 147 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bret Easton Ellis writes this coming of age book with unrelenting grit and down-right graphic accounts of teenage life for the privledged LA-ites. Easton Ellis follows Clay, a socialite who slowly recognizes the reality he faces with his drug-laced friends, Julian and Blair. At times shocking, Clay becomes more engrossed in this over-indulgent world when he comes back home for Christmas break. It is difficult not to get the feeling that non of these characters actually care about one another unless they can provide them with more drugs or cruder forms of entertainment. Although you will see a tranformation in Clay from beginning to end, you will grind your teeth at his blatant inaction in serious situations. Easton Ellis' writing sytle is genius: Clay's narrative changes with his use and non-use of drugs, and his fleeting memories of Julian in earlier years are crushing. This is an incredible debut novel from Bret Easton Ellis. I look forward to the 'in-the-works' follow-up to Less Than Zero.
Nichole Stark More than 1 year ago
after reading so many great reviews I thought this book was going to be something amazing. I was sorely disappointed. I couldnt get over the odd writing style, lack of detail, and bland one dimensional characters. The stories were obsured and were surely only there for shock value, but lacking in detail or emotion. This left me feeling bored rather than shocked. The only description of characters you ever get are that they are blonde and tan. Everyone. I cannot put into words how annoying I found this. there was no real story that I could get from this book either. No character growth, no plot. It was just a flat, boring read about young adults who are all blonde, tan, bisexual, and so devoid of emotion or thoufht that you might as well call them robots.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My friend first handed me 'Less Than Zero' and said something around the lines of 'it's good, I think you'll like it.' I had never read anything by Ellis before so I figured I'd take a step into the unknown. If I had known that this book was going to eat away all of my time I would have squared off my all of my affairs before I began reading. Though Ellis is proclaimde trite and overbearing I believe that his style of writing puts great emphsis on what the character is thinking rather than what Ellis himself was thinking. This dark and twisted tale of LA in the 80's not only enthralls the reader, but thrashes him around unforgivingly. An amazing piece of work, especially considering he wrote it when he was 18, some of my good friends are 18, I just can't imagine going to B&N and seeing one of their books on the shelf, its just wild.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I do not recommend this book! I read American Psycho first and hated it, but I thought I'd give the author another chance and read Less Than Zero. It is just as bad! The self-absorbed L.A. socialite characters at all are not interesting-- I don't care if he means to be cynical; it's not ironic, it's just shallow! This book is very predictable in its plot and its syntax. It reads like a soap opera, dropping names of movie stars and fancy restaurants, while following different characters through their trials with drugs, casual sex, bisexuality, insane materialism, more drugs, and prostitution. The violence and sex Ellis uses to glamorize his characters doesn't bring any more interest to this book, but rather, just another reason for me to throw up my hands in disgust.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I come from the same background that the protagonist Clay comes from (granted, in New York, not LA...) and yet I find his portrayal to be very cynical and missing many important details. The story is a bit exaggerated and I can barely imagine the apathy shown by the character. I feel no sympathy for him as a person.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable. Dark. Ellis' archetypes can be seen developing here.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is great!  Less Than Zero offers a look into the LA party scene in the 1980's. The book is not easy to wrap your head around but if you take the time to get to know the characters and their lives, the book is easier to understand. Less Than Zero is a disturbing look into the reality of the LA party scene. The documentarian esque writing pulls you in within the first page and carries you to the last word. Ellis is a great writer and his use of imagery and your imagination is the key to understanding this book. The book contains a "Sofia Coppola movie quality in writing". Her movies a normally bland and seem to have no life until you dig deeper into the characters and find out who they truly are. This book is exactly that and it's a must read!
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The first time I read this book, I agreed with most of the one and two star ratings. I thought it was odd and depressing and I had no idea what to think when I finished. When I read it the second time, I realized it was one of my favorite books. Clay isn't as difficult to relate to as some reviewers claim because at some point, you will feel this jaded or someone who's supposed to support you (like Clay's psychiatrist) will let you down. If you read this book and didn't like it, I urge to you wait a month, a year or what have you and read it again. It will be worth it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not yet finished with the book but am thoroughly enjoying. Bret's attention to detail mirrors that of American Psycho, my all-time favorite book. The reader is submerged, and drowns in the emptiness of our protagonist, Clay, and watches him drown as well. His life is a hollow shell, filled with overabundant drug use and meaningless sex. His friends carry equal parts fake skin and careless personality. This book is nihilism in every sense of the word and BEE is by far my favorite author.
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Ellis has created with his books a excellent satire of the 1980's. If you lived through them you would understand his books. That means if you were under 15during the 80's you will not get what he is protraying. If you were over 25 you won't get it. Ellis is one of the most orginal and distinctive voices of my generation.
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ragdoll21 More than 1 year ago
I'm indifferent about the book, I was kinda confussed alittle when it would jump to past experince. But for it being his first noval and he wrote it when he was 19 I can understand the writting of it. Love the Movie but don't get the book and movie as the same thing. The charater are the same but the movie went with a different approch from the story. overall I'm only rating 3 stars, I just wish there were more feelings towards the main charater.
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