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The Shards: Bret Easton Ellis’ Latest Book

Bret Easton Ellis, image courtesy of Amazon

There comes a writer that resonates with a generation and its cultural zeitgeist. Bret Easton Ellis was the quintessential writer for Generation X, along with many. Also known as the “latchkey generation,” the people that belonged to this group of independent children referred to the fact that many were left alone after school.

In 1985, Bret Easton Ellis released “Less than Zero,” chronicling the protagonist’s growing alienation and disillusionment with the people and culture around him. The book’s popularity eventually led to a film adaptation starring Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, and Robert Downey Jr., whose latter performance is unforgettable.

Since then, Ellis has released multiple best-selling books. Some include “The Rules of Attraction,” “American Psycho,” and “Imperial Bedrooms.” The latter is a sequel to “Less than Zero,” whose disillusioned teens reach middle age. Despite the years that passed, neither of the characters experienced any growth and, if anything, just became worse.

His latest book, “The Shards,” has just been released thirteen years after “Imperial Bedrooms.”

The Shards Summary:

The Shards was released on January 17, 2023. The story is a fictionalized memoir of Ellis’ senior year in high school in Los Angeles.

Like most coming-of-age books, Easton deals with themes that many people recognize. From the loss of innocence to the tumultuous yet necessary progress into adulthood, Ellis doesn’t hold back from these themes. However, he does engage with them as indifferently as ever.

As the book follows a group of privileged high school friends in 80s Los Angeles, a serial killer is on the loose, wreaking havoc in his midst.

The Shards Impressions:

Readers who are familiar with Ellis’ works are familiar with his characters. Many are vacuous individuals who engage in their depravity with little care for its consequences.

Nevertheless, while the characters in The Shards are not as nonchalant as the characters in his other works, they are not without their vapid interests.

Then again, what privileged teenager isn’t vapid? Considering that the setting is in 1980s Los Angeles, it’s fitting that many of the characters encapsulate the classic roles found in most 80s movies. In fact, Ellis indulges in the aesthetic through many pages, the hint of nostalgia so palpable that you could practically hear the soundtrack blaring in the background. Ellis’ most prominent issue in the book is that he rambles on the pages, perhaps to inject as much cinematic experience into the story as possible.

While this may be taxing for some, it can leave first-time readers confused, annoyed, and impatient. The Shards is Ellis’ biggest book, with a whopping 600 pages, so expect some namedropping of brands, bands, movies, and celebrities. It’s a quirk that many Ellis fans have become accustomed to but may leave new readers annoyed at best.

Still, there is a cinematic quality to Ellis’ writing style. Everything is glamorous but dirty, nostalgic yet modern, and shallow yet unexpectedly profound. While you may not necessarily like the characters, you certainly won’t forget them anytime soon.

For months, Bret, the main character, is left alone in his parents’ fabulous home on Mulholland Drive. As a budding writer, Bret is closeted yet engages with the popular crowd at Buckley School. 

On the surface, Bret presents himself as “straight, fake, and not paranoid.” He even has a girlfriend named Debbie, the daughter of a wealthy film producer. In reality, Bret is as different as his crafted image projects. He sleeps with two boys in his class and is obsessed with an L.A. serial killer aptly named “The Trawler.”

Still, all is well in Bret’s circle. That is until Robert Mallory, an incredibly handsome new student at Buckley, shakes the dynamics of his life as we know it. Bret, suspicious of the new guy in his group, wonders if Mallory is related to the serial killer in any way. Fueled by his imagination and growing isolation, Bret’s perfectly crafted image of himself slowly shatters.

The Shards Verdict:

In a nutshell, if you aren’t an Ellis fan, you probably would consider The Shards as a time capsule of a bygone era that is “triggering” or “offensive for the sake of offensive.” However, if you like Ellis’ work, this fictional memoir may be his most ambitious work to date. While you can’t expect Ellis to write a satisfying conclusion, you can be sure he’ll enthrall you with the same effect that the Didion-esque cool kids did back then.

Still, curious readers may benefit from learning that there are graphic depictions of animal abuse, drug use, and torture. You may find something else if this is not your cup of tea. On the other hand, if you’re an Ellis fan and have been since his “Less than Zero” debut, you may be pleased to know there is a reference to this 1985 classic in the book.

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