After 25 years I’m occasionally and increasingly asked by readers of a book I published in 1991 called American Psycho (later made into a movie in 2000) about where its narrator, Patrick Bateman, would be now. This question has become even more prevalent lately, on the book’s 25th anniversary, either at appearances and signings or on social media, usually while fans share this year’s Halloween costume pic—almost always the blood-splattered sheer slicker that Christian Bale’s Bateman wears in the film as he kills supposed Pierce & Pierce rival Paul Allen (Jared Leto) with an ax to the head. In particular they wonder where the Wall Street yuppie and serial killer, haunting the late ’80s streets and nightclubs and restaurants of Manhattan, would be residing if he were recreated and resituated in 2016.
For a while during the mid- to late ’90s—at the height of the dotcom bubble, when Manhattan seemed even more absurdly decadent than it did in 1987, before Black Monday—it was a possibility that Bateman, if the book had been moved up a decade, would have been the founder of a number of dotcoms. He would have partied in Tribeca and the Hamptons, indistinguishable from the young and handsome boy wonders who were populating the scene then, with their millions of nonexistent dollars, dancing unknowingly on the edge of an implosion that happened mercilessly, wiping out the playing field, correcting scores. While twirling through that decade myself as a youngish man, I often thought that this was a time Bateman could have also thrived in, especially with the advent of new technologies that could have aided him in his ghoulish obsession with murder, execution, and torture—and in ways to record them. And sometimes I think that if I had written the book in the past decade, perhaps Bateman would have been working in Silicon Valley, living in Cupertino with excursions into San Francisco or down to Big Sur to the Post Ranch Inn and palling around with Zuckerberg and dining at the French Laundry, or lunching with Reed Hastings at Manresa in Los Gatos, wearing a Yeezy hoodie and teasing girls on Tinder. Certainly he could also just as easily be a hedge-funder in New York: Patrick Bateman begets Bill Ackman and Daniel Loeb.
There was a shoddy, barely released sequel made a few years after the Mary Harron–directed American Psycho opened theatrically, but it had little to do with Patrick Bateman (he’s killed off in the first five minutes), and there has been talk of a remake of Harron’s original, as well as TV series developed at various networks either continuing the Bateman saga or updating it to the present day. There are Patrick Bateman action figures sold online, and there is now American Psycho: The Musical, which after a sold-out London run transfers to Broadway at the end of March. All of these things have sometimes distracted me, not only about Bateman now versus Bateman then but also about how the character was created and how strange it is to see the embodiment of my youthful pain and angst morph into a metaphor for the disruptive greed of a decade, as well as a continuing metaphor for anyone who works on Wall Street—a symbol of corruption, in fact—or for anyone whose perfect facade masks a wilder, dirtier side, as in: “My boyfriend’s such a Patrick Bateman.” As the writer of American Psycho I have no idea—and I can take no responsibility for—why it has such resonance, though it might be that the moment we’re living in now is, if anything, even more ripe for the metaphor of a serial killer.
The rage I felt over what was being extolled as success, what was expected from me and all male members of Gen X—millions of dollars and six-pack abs—I poured into the fictional creation of Patrick Bateman, who in many ways was the worst fantasy of myself, the nightmare me, someone I loathed but also found in his helpless floundering sympathetic as often as not. And he was completely correct in his criticism of the society he was a part of. American Psycho was about what it meant to be a person in a society you disagreed with and what happens when you attempt to accept its values and live with them even if you know they’re wrong. Well, insanity creeps in and overwhelms; delusion and anxiety are the focal points.
In other words, this is the outcome of chasing the American dream.