Cindy Crawford will be there for opening night, as will Leonardo DiCaprio, Drew Barrymore, Isaac Mizrahi and Kevyn Aucoin. Linda Evangelista will be there, as will Tyson, Bridget Fonda, Noel Gallagher and Ethan Hawke. MTV will cover it, and a video crew from Japan will provide behind-the-scenes coverage of MTV's coverage. Entertainment Tonight and the E! network will be there, as will People, Entertainment Weekly and W magazines. "There" is the newest, ephemerally hip, of-the-moment Manhattan nightclub, imagined by Bret Easton Ellis in his fourth and most ambitious novel, "Glamorama."
Ellis, whose earlier work includes "Less Than Zero" and "American Psycho," has become one of the finest literary satirists in America by repeatedly cannibalizing his own monied class of physically beautiful but spiritually empty glitterati. In "Glamorama," he brilliantly dissects the models and supermodels, actors, icons, publicists, club owners and peripheral hangers-on of Manhattan's fashion and entertainment overworlds. Their selfishness and brutality, he implies, are simply an extreme manifestation of what consumer culture encourages in everyone.
A-list model, would-be-actor and current "It boy" Victor Ward ("The better you look, the more you see.") is "Glamorama's" hilariously vapid narrator. As the novel opens, and for much of its first half, Victor helps coordinate the opening of a club owned by his mentor and rival Damien Nutchs Ross ("He's the grossest guy, baby. He is so evil.").
Victor is surely the dimmest, vainest and most harmless of Ellis' many distasteful narrators. Clay was more sensitive and insightful in "Less Than Zero," and Patrick Bateman was a preening serial killer in "American Psycho." Victor, on the other hand, wears his ignorance like it's Versace, uses the word "baby" more frequently than Al Pacino used the effenheimer in "Scarface," and is fond of saying things like: "What's up pussycat? You're looking very Uma-ish. Love the outfit." In one particularly compassionate scene, he tells his supermodel girlfriend Chloe, "Baby . . . I don't want to wake up and find you've freaked out about your implants again and you're hiding out in Hollywood at the Chateau Marmont, hanging with Kiefer and Dermot and Sly. So y'know, um, chill out, baby."
That's Kiefer, as in Sutherland, Dermot, as in Mulroney, and Sly, as in Stallone. But, of course, you already know that, and Ellis knows you know it. After all, we live in a culture where, increasingly, people actually want to know what kind of house Susan Sarandon lives in, where Elle Macpherson vacations or what John Travolta thinks about President Clinton and Scientology. Magazines, TV shows and whole networks devoted to celebrities are proliferating faster than quickie Hollywood marriage-divorces.
As much as celebrity itself, our collective celebrity worship becomes the real target of Ellis' satire: Don't blame them because they're rich and beautiful; blame the media and yourself for caring.
"Glamorama" is so breathtakingly splattered with celebrity and product names that they become a kind of white noise, a relentless background roar through which Victor Ward and company strain to hear each other's bored, cynical chatter. When they do talk, it is with the enchantingly disaffected monotone Ellis has always employed, a been-there-done-that Valleyspeak that begets exchanges such as this classic:
"Where are you going?" Lauren hugs her wrap coat tighter around herself.
"Todd Oldham show," I sigh. "I'm in it."
"Modeling," she says. "A man's job."
"It's not as easy as it may look."
"Yeah, modeling's tough, Victor," she says. "The only thing you need to be is on time. Hard work."
"It is," I whine.
"It's a job where you need to know how to wear clothes?" she's asking. "It's a job where you need to know how to -- now let me get this straight -- walk?"
Later, explaining why he wants to hold on to his empty relationship with Chloe, Victor tells her "Because . . . you're . . . my ideal mate?" To which Chloe replies: "A mirror's your ideal mate."
On the club's opening night Victor steps through the glossy, brightly lit mirror of invite-only parties, VIP clubs, fashion shows and paparazzi photo-ops, entering a matte-black underworld of subterfuge, double plots, terrorism and torture. The DJ who is supposed to work that night turns up dead, bludgeoned with a hammer, her intestines wrapped around her neck; Victor's lovers all find out about each other; the club owner learns of Victor's secret agendas, and an actor named Hurley Thompson, who may or may not be faxing Victor threatening messages, beats him to a bloody mess.
Victor's response? He pops more Xanax while a lyric from U2's "Even Better Than the Real Thing" loops through his empty head: "We'll slide down the surface of things," over and over and over.
Slide, indeed. After this set-up, "Glamorama" gets progressively darker as Victor is recruited by a stranger to find an old classmate who is missing in Europe. It's the beginning of a labyrinthian, confusing series of plots and counterplots involving a group of terrorist models, high-stakes American politics, body doubles, multiple documentary film crews, guns, explosives and graphic sex and violence recycled from "American Psycho."
This is new territory for Ellis, who earlier has relied on his style and wit alone to escort him from one aimless scenario to another, each boring scene reinforcing the monotony of his characters' lives. "Glamorama," on the other hand, actually has a plot. It's absolutely preposterous and inconclusive, but it's a plot.
Most of the questions raised in this ambitious but unsuccessful latter half are simply ignored: What, for example, is the motivation for the model-terrorists? We're left to piece it together from stray references to angst and the situationist rhetoric of French philosopher Guy Debord.
But in the muddled end, unresolved questions are probably part of Ellis' gambit. What's the fun, after all, of a conspiracy story in which everything is neatly explained?
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