The Rules of Attraction
The roots of my own novel took hold and was largely formed by Bret Easton Ellis’s The Rules of Attraction.
What attracted me to the split first person in the present tense is the speed at which the narrative unfolds, the ease it which the form lends itself to snappy descriptions and playful transitions. It is a great way to write a novel that is entirely scenes. There is barely any room for reflection in the present first person, which is perfect for TRoA because it is a novel about the moral vacuum in a young generation. Having multiple voices allowed Ellis to represent a range of personalities, thereby extending his commentary to a group rather than a single person.
It’s setting is less reliant on descriptions of spaces, more so on the relationships between people. More Facebook, less Google Maps. Characters’ pasts and predictions about their future are mostly non-existent. What matters is what they see, do, and who they sleep with. The author builds secondary characters through pithy one-liners, and they gain importance relative to the number of times they are mentioned. A split first-person novel has the unique ability to present similar situations through a variety of lenses. The author does this with secondary ‘flat’ characters as well.
Paul: “That cute blond-haired Freshman boy was behind the counter not saying a word, only wearing the biggest pair of black sunglasses I’ve ever seen…” (page 34)
Lauren: “Cute guy wearing Wayfarer sunglasses serves cheeseburgers.” (page 40)
Sean: “Jason was serving and I told him I talked to Rupert and that I could get him the four grams by tomorrow night, but that he should take his sunglasses off because they make him look too suspicious.” (page 44)
When I took a closer look at the novel’s three main characters, things became very interesting. I realized that E.M. Forster’s distinction between flat and round characters is exactly what this book is trying to challenge. Round characters undergo change and have the ability to credibly surprise the readers with their decisions. Paul, Sean, and Lauren do not change throughout the novel. They do not act predictably; yet their actions are not surprising. This is quite a feat in a novel with rape, heavy drug use, shifting sex preferences, an abortion, and a suicide. Character’s actions and motivations have no lasting effects, even though what these characters do, think, and experience are often violent. The deepest question of this novel, introduced in the opening pages and grown throughout is “What is the point?” The characters’ answer?