Patrick Bateman is an unreliable narrator. By pairing the reader with a storyteller who may or may not be trustworthy in a landscape of drug-addled confusion and hallucination, Ellis creates a world for the reader that is constantly in flux and unstable, mimicking the experience of being inside the mind of a deranged and depraved serial killer and, ultimately, revealing the possibility for the spark of an “American psycho” to be dormant within each of us.
The relationship between the events Bateman talks us through and when those events actually take place in time is often unclear. In the chapter “Girls,” Bateman moves immediately and without transition from describing how “Christie has kept on a pair of thigh-high suede boots from Henri Bendel that I’ve made her wear” to “Elizabeth, naked, running from the bedroom, blood already on her, is moving with difficulty as she screams out something garbled.” The passage of time between chapters is also often left unclear. Sometimes when Bateman refers to “yesterday,” he will describe the events of the previous day he has relayed to us. But more often, especially when moving from one chapter to the next, it will at first seem to the reader that time has been continuous until Bateman mentions events of “yesterday” that do not align with what we have seen in the timeline we’ve been following. Not only does this make Bateman’s story difficult to follow, but it leads to questions about whether or not Bateman’s portrayal of events is honest and trustworthy. Is he leaving things out intentionally or unintentionally? What and why? Is his memory faulty?
Early in the novel, Bateman describes hypothetical violent acts to the reader, as well as violent acts he has committed in the past – people he has tortured and killed. It is unclear in these moments whether or not he is being honest. The reader does not yet know if Bateman is someone who fantasizes about violence and tells fake stories about it or someone who actually commits these acts. As Bateman’s descent into heavier drug use and more violence continues, the truth becomes even more difficult to discern. In “Chase, Manhattan,” Bateman describes a large and elaborate police chase which ends with him hiding in his new office while multiple police cars, SWAT teams, and helicopters surround the building. The chapter then ends abruptly and moves onto a detailed description of Huey Lewis and the News. We never learn more about what happened during the night of the police chase, and there do not seem to have been any consequences for Bateman. Though we later learn that he definitely left the voice messages he describes leaving during the case (because his lawyer discusses receiving them) this huge event is left unresolved and unclear. Did Bateman hallucinate the chase or did he intentionally exaggerate the events for the reader?
As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult for the reader to hold onto an understanding of truth. As time moves more erratically and Bateman’s descriptions (or lack thereof) of his life become wilder and more unreliable, the reader is left to question the entire novel, which now exists somewhere in a limbo between the truth, Bateman’s honesty and forthcoming in telling his story, and the memories and perceptions of a drug-addicted psychopath. The largest nail in the coffin of truth is Harold Carnes’ assertion that he had lunch the previous week with a very much alive Paul Owen in London. The reader is left to wonder if Owen’s murder, one of the novel’s most central events, happened or not, and, thus if the events of the entire novel can be trusted. It is entirely possible (and intentionally left open by Ellis) that Patrick Bateman never committed a single violent act, but instead either hallucinated or fabricated his tales based on his personal fantasies of violence. But whether he did or did not rape, torture, and murder multiple people, the reader realizes that it doesn’t really matter if Bateman committed the violent acts he’s described throughout the novel. In leading the reader to this realization, Ellis proposes that even a person who is not torturing and murdering strangers and friends could have the desire and capability for such violence inside of them, especially when under the influence of drugs and sex. Bateman’s existence in a capitalist society has bred in him a violence; Ellis doesn’t need him to act on this violence in order to critique the hyper-capitalist, materialistic, and shallow society he saw growing to dominate American life and culture in the late 1980s. The truth – erratic and fleeting throughout the novel – is, in many ways, unnecessary to the novel’s argument.
The Truth ThemeTracker
The Truth Quotes in American Psycho
“My life is a living hell,” I mention off the cuff, while casually moving leeks around on my plate, which by the way is a porcelain triangle. “And there are many more people I, uh, want to… want to, well, I guess murder.” I say emphasizing this last word, staring straight into Armstrong’s face.
It hits me that we have something in common, that we share a bond… the audience disappears and the music slows down… everything getting clearer, my body alive and burning, on fire, and from nowhere a flash of white and blinding light envelopes me and I hear it, can actually feel, can even make out the letters of the message hovering above Bono’s head in orange wavy letters: “I … am … the … devil … and I am … just … like … you …”
…I’m sweaty and a pounding migraine thumps dull in my head and I’m experiencing a major-league anxiety attack, searching my pockets for Valium, Xanax, a leftover Halcion, anything… I’ve forgotten who I had lunch with earlier, and even more important, where.
During this Christie has kept on a pair of thigh-high suede boots from Henri Bendel that I’ve made her wear.
Elizabeth, naked, running from the bedroom, blood already on her, is moving with difficulty as she screams out something garbled.
I feel empty, hardly here at all, but even the arrival of the police seems insufficient reason to move and I stand with the crowd outside the penguin habitat… until finally I’m walking down Fifth Avenue, surprised by how little blood has stained my jacket, and I stop in a bookstore and buy a book and then at a Dove Bar stand on the corner of Fifty-sixth Street, where I buy a Dove bar – a coconut one – and I imagine a hole, widening in the sun…
…and the sun, a planet on fire, gradually rises over Manhattan, another sunrise, and soon the night turns into day so fast it’s like some kind of optical illusion…
“Davis,” he sighs, as if patiently trying to explain something to a child, “I am not one to bad-mouth anyone. Your joke was amusing, but come on, man, you had one fatal flaw: Bateman’s such a bloody ass-kisser, such a brown-nosing goody-goody, that I couldn’t fully appreciate it…. Oh good god, man. Why else would Evelyn Richards dump him? You know, really. He could barely pick up an escort girl, let alone… what was it you said he did to her?”
He stares at me as if we were both underwater and shouts back, very clearly over the din of the club, “Because … I had … dinner … with Paul Owen … in London … just ten days ago.”