Bret Easton Ellis Revisits His L.A. High School in Latest Novel ‘The Shards’: ‘I Write About the Rich and I Always Have’

Bret Easton Ellis at Rome Film Fest 2019. Rome (Italy), October 18th, 2019 (photo by Rocco
Rocco Spaziani/Archivio Rocco Spaziani/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Bret Easton Ellis is characteristically blunt about the central theme of all his work — in his words: “the rich, and how fucked up they are.”

His latest novel, The Shards, sees him revisit Buckley, the posh high school he attended in the early 1980s.

Despite a fictionalized serial killer plotline, much is drawn from his real life, as Ellis and his comrades lounge around their pools and drive to class in sports cars. Sex and drugs punctuate their free time.

“It is a privileged set of characters. I write about the rich and I always have,” he told AFP during a visit to Paris.

“We were much more privileged than I ever thought when I was younger. The first time we began to get some acne, boom: expensive dermatologist. In Beverly Hills none of my friends had acne,” he said.

Buckley’s school alumni include famous names such as Matthew Perry from “Friends” and Kim Kardashian.

But Ellis’s family life disabused him of any romantic notion of wealth.

“My father (property developer Robert Ellis) was a rich asshole. My pleasure in whatever status I might have had — that was ruined by him. So I always looked at wealth in a suspicious way.”

This has colored all his work, from the drugged-out alienation of his debut “Less Than Zero”, published when he was just 21, to the murderous fantasies of Wall Street maniac Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

‘Open and vulnerable’

Despite completing his first novel at 14, it took Ellis many decades to write directly about his school years as a closeted gay teen.

“I could not have written this book at 18 because I was too cool. I posed. I was not open and vulnerable in my fiction in the way that I am now.”

The urge came as a surprise.

“Why were they coming back to me at 56, 57? Why was I thinking about my girlfriend — my poor girlfriend — the boys I was with, their beautiful bodies, teenage sex, adolescent passion — why was it coming back to me now?”

Ellis became obsessed with these memories during the pandemic lockdowns. He searched for signs of his old friends and haunts online, only to find they had “vanished”.

“And then it happened… It just kind of poured out of me.

“It was very fun. I love writing a novel. I wish I was writing novels all the time but I’m not, because they don’t come to me easily. I don’t feel them.”

The Shards is his seventh novel and has been treated as something of a return to form, with rave reviews since its release in January.

He has always had detractors — upsetting right-wingers with all the sex and drugs, and left-wingers with his anti-woke politics, as detailed in 2019’s non-fiction book White.

“I have my fans, people who like me, and I have a lot of people who don’t like me,” he said. “It’s been that way ever since Less Than Zero. I am a very divisive American writer.”


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