Bret Easton Ellis was a hugely important writer to me when I was a teenager. Much like everyone else I got into him via American Psycho, but to me his best work is still Less Than Zero and this collection of shorts. ‘Letters From LA’ is an epistolary story in which, Anne, a girl from New York goes to LA to stay with her grandparents and sends over a period of three months a series of unanswered letters to a friend Sean, who she’s left behind in Camden. When she arrives “It was like walking into another world” and the tone is one of overwhelming naivety – “I went out with this couple to some exclusive club… and I danced and got drunk and had great fun. And I thought I wouldn’t have much of a social life!” but as ever with Ellis, LA is the great corrupter, and the letters soon take a more sinister tone. After a month she writes, “I am kind of tired of hanging out at the same clubs night after night and laying by the pool doing all this incredible coke”, and his usual dead-eyed nihilism starts to creep into play.
“My relationships with people here aren’t tense or trying because no one requires a whole lot of serious emotional investment at all,” she writes. The letters become shorter, her language shot through with LA idioms, references to Valium, grass, Librium, empty sex; she hangs out with actors, musicians, studio executives, lies about her age; “I tell everyone I’m seventeen or eighteen (I’m twenty). Randy thinks I’m sixteen. Can U believe it?” In the penultimate letter she writes: “They all told me that Randy OD’d, but……there was blood on the ceiling, Sean. How can blood get on the ceiling if you OD?” before apathy finally triumphs in the closing missive: “Doesn’t it seem like a long time since I’ve written you? I guess I’m not much into it anymore.”
All the trademark Ellis motifs are in here – meaningless sex, drugs, the dissolution of the idle rich and the sanguinary violence that permeates pretty much everything he does, all told with his fucked-on-downers detachment and studiously minimal cut glass prose. As a 14-year-old I was in love with his voice and the years have done nothing to diminish it. His output has slowed and he’s way past his prime, but the knowingly allusive and self-referential Lunar Park and Imperial Bedrooms are still worthy reads from a writer who knows his place in the literary pantheon is secure.
First published in The Informers, Knopf/Picador, 1994