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This Bret Easton Ellis interview is brutal

Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto (Getty Images)

Bret Easton Ellis has never been one to keep his opinions to himself. Regardless of how contrarian, reactive, or kinda shitty these opinions might be, the American Psycho author will use whatever platform he has to say them loudly and proudly. It’s curious, then, that when The New Yorker asked the author to defend or even explain some of the opinions laid out in his recent book of political and social commentary, White, Ellis was woefully unprepared to do so. Why he decided to write a book about a series of topics he doesn’t seem able to speak about is anyone’s guess, but, hey, at least it gave us this mess of an interview.

Admittedly, “interview” is a strong word. The transcribed conversation between Ellis and Isaac Chotiner reads more like a protracted tug-of-war. Chotiner drags Ellis into explaining what he means when he decries the liberal response to the Trump administration as an overreaction, and Ellis pulls back saying that he doesn’t think it’s an overreaction, except when it is, and, ultimately, that he doesn’t even care, anyway. Then, the cycle begins anew.

What would looking at some of the issues that we have been facing from the perspective of Trump voters look like in practice?

I don’t know. I am not that interested in politics. I am not that interested in policy. What I was interested in was the coverage. Especially in Hollywood, there was an immense overreaction. I don’t care really about Trump that much, and I don’t care about politics. I was forced to care based on how it was covered and how people have reacted. Sure, you can be hysterical, or you can wait and vote him out of office.

People did show up at the polls in 2018.

They might very well vote him out. I hope they do, so we have some sense of normalcy in this household.

Big picture.

But I don’t really care.

There are moments when Ellis sounds like a kid who forgot to do his book report, talking endless circles around vague notions before deflecting onto a different topic altogether. The crowning moment comes towards the end, when Ellis backs himself into the question of why he wrote this book in the first place.

When you think back to these couple of years, is your large takeaway that the left was too critical of Trump?

It’s not just the left. There seems to have been this hysterical overreaction that can be solved with voting him out of office. And I don’t know whether this pain and turmoil people have inflicted on themselves have gotten them anything. I just see a lot of people who have turned themselves inside out.

It seems to have caused a lot of people self-harm, and I don’t know where it gets anybody.

You are a novelist. You write about the human condition. Do you worry about the self-harm of people who see things like child separation and have no emotional response?

I think I am an absurdist. I think politics are ridiculous.

Maybe don’t write a book about it. Would that be the solution?

I think the problem is that I don’t necessarily see this as interesting as fiction.

Yeah, I could tell.

Unfortunately, Ellis didn’t come to this realization before sending the book to print. White will be on shelves next week and contains essays on Roseanne Barr, the liberal obsession with racism, and the bane of Gen-Xers everywhere, those pesky millennials. Ellis is, no doubt, looking forward to your outraged tweets about it.

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Read the full interview here.

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About the author

Dan Neilan

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Have Fun — Will Travel.