Picks and Pans Review: Less Than Zero

updated 06/24/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/24/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Bret Easton Ellis

What Jay McInerney did for New York in his Bright Lights, Big City late last year, this novel does, in a slightly less whimsical fashion, for Los Angeles. (Bennington College student Ellis, at 20, is even younger than McInerney.) Ellis' narrator is a college freshman, home from a New Hampshire school for the Christmas holidays. His name is Clay. His girlfriend's name is Blair. Then there's Julian (his childhood friend) and assorted people with names like Kim, Trent (a male model), Rip (Clay's drug dealer) and Spit. Most of their parents are in the movie business, so there are expensive cars and plenty of money and drugs. Talk revolves around rock bands, MTV and gossip about the latest friend who has OD'd. Clay is so passive, so obliging, that he continues to snort cocaine even when he doesn't much want to. Sometimes the outrageous things that happen are comic: "Angel was supposed to go with us tonight, but earlier today she got caught in the drain of her Jacuzzi and almost drowned." At the beach, the entertainment is a pornographic snuff film that includes chain saw mutilations. Another night, everyone is titillated by the sight of a young drug-death victim in an alley. There is a lot of sex but absolutely no love. The book is depressing, distressing and frightening. To that end though, Ellis' short, vivid, laconic sentences are brilliantly effective. (Simon and Schuster, $15.95)

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