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American Psycho
by Bret Easton Ellis

Field-Tested by Christopher Phin

in London, England and San Francisco, California

Having neglected to pack a book for the trip to San Francisco, I found myself browsing the shelves in a tiny Heathrow shop.

Nestled among the gold-embossed authors and travel guides was American Psycho, a book that had intrigued me since a University friend, usually so unflappable, had reported being shaken by it. Besides, it was about America, and I'd only visited briefly a couple of times before - perhaps it could serve as a cultural orientation book. (It didn't occur to me at the time that not only was the book set on the opposite side of the country I was about to visit, but that it was set in the late eighties. Plus, you know, it was about someone who brutally kills ostensibly-innocent people; in retrospect, thinking of American Psycho as some kind of travel-guide-by- the-back-door could charitably be described as “optimistic”).

By the time I'd boarded the plane, I'd read a few chapters, and felt, truth be told, a little let down; sure, it was competently told, but it didn't seem unusual or particularly intriguing.

Then, somewhere over the Atlantic, came the first killing. And in the by-default-claustrophobic confines of the airplane, I blanched — a genuine physical reaction. It wasn't so much the act itself, but the utter dispassion with which it was narrated. There was no break in narrative flow, none of the usual structural hints — shorter sentences or, say, the odd exclamation mark — to let the reader know that something different was happening.

Bateman's world increasingly diverged from the reality most of us experience, and anyone who has experienced jet lag will recognize the slightly spacey feeling I had as I tried to force myself to adapt to the new time zone after checking into the hotel. Reading the book as a crutch to my drooping eyes was a mistake; I was in a country when the rules were a little different to my own — my body insisted it was 4 a.m., for one thing — and dealing with Bateman's micro-environment was just too difficult.

But I can't blame the jet lag. I tried to finish the book a couple of weeks after returning to the UK, and again found it so completely at odds with the normal way society works, that it still sits only three-quarters read on my bookshelf.

After realizing that he got higher marks for his essays than for his design work at university, Christopher Phin joined MacUser magazine where he's now the features editor. For more information, visit his website.

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