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Literature / Less Than Zero

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Disappear Here

Bret Easton Ellis' first novel. Less Than Zero was written when Ellis was 19 and was published in 1985. It was loosely adapted into a film in 1987.

Clay, the protagonist, is a bisexual college student back home in L.A. for the winter break. He comes from a pretty rich family and during the course of the novel, goes to a lot of parties, has a lot of one-night stands and does a lot of drugs. The story itself is a fairly frightening take on the amorality of the 1980s party scene. In 2010 Ellis published a distant sequel, Imperial Bedrooms, which picks up Clay's story twenty-five years later.

Provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The '80s: Bret Easton Ellis' writing style generally incorporates a lot of pop culture, and this novel is no exception. Every paragraph just screams Eighties! Eighties! Eighties!!! from the parachute pants to the Ataris.
  • Adults Are Useless: Nobody's parents seem to pay attention to anything going on.
  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Julian's pimp and dealer.
  • Arc Words: Disappear Here.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: While Clay does a lot of questionable and downright illegal stuff, he's nowhere near as bad as most of the people around him. The host of one of the many, many parties buys a Snuff Film and screens it to all the partygoers while sporting an obvious erection. People stand around Clay's anorexic friend Muriel while she shoots up and take numerous pictures. A pair of drug dealers rape a twelve-year-old because they can't see any reason not to. Julian's pimp forces Clay to watch as Julian prostitutes himself to a client... It goes on and on.
  • Chained to a Bed: Clay's dealer has a twelve year old girl tied to a bed. His dealer also drugs her and uses her as a sex slave...
  • Character Overlap: Clay is also a minor character in The Rules of Attraction.
  • Crapsack World
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The point of the book, really.
  • From Bad to Worse: Boy howdy. The book starts off somewhat pessimistically already, with Clay estranged from all the people around him, especially his sorta-girlfriend and best friend. And it just keeps going downhill.
  • Hellish L.A.: Oh yeah. See the examples in Black and Gray Morality above. And yet it also gave Los Angeles a Misaimed Fandom...
  • Hookers and Blow: Played with; there's lots of sexual promiscuity but almost no prostitutes are shown servicing anyone (Julian notwithstanding). There are certainly plenty of drugs though— not just cocaine but heroin, meth, Quaaludes, animal tranquilizers...
  • No Name Given: Most characters (including Clay) are only known by their first names.
  • Parental Obliviousness
  • Plenty of Blondes: Practically much every white character is tan and blond(e), as befitting the Southern California stereotype. A few who favor a punk look have differently-colored hair, and none of the (very few) non-white characters are described as blonds.
  • Safety in Indifference: Clay.
    "I don't want to care. If I care about things, it'll just be worse, it'll just be another thing to worry about. It's less painful if I don't care."
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Many of the characters.
  • Sex Slave: A twelve year old girl tied to a bed. Julian almost meets this description, as his pimp forces him into prostitution to pay off his debts, and keeps him docile with heroin even when he tries to leave the situation.
  • Sick and Wrong: Clay's feelings about the Snuff Film and the twelve year old girl.
  • Snuff Film: Clay sees one being shown off at a party.
  • There Are No Adults
  • Titled After the Song: This book and its sequel are both named after Elvis Costello songs.
  • Unnamed Parent: Clay's parents are not named (neither are his two sisters).
  • Wild Teen Party