Title: The Shards (2023) Author: Bret Easton Ellis Publisher: Knopf Book jacket: A story about the end of innocence, and the perilous passage from adolescence into adulthood, set in a vibrantly fictionalized Los Angeles in 1981 as a serial killer begins targeting teenagers throughout the city. Joe says: The Shards is another generation-defining read by Bret Easton Ellis. And it is good.
The Shards is 600 pages of Gen-X angst, teenage infidelity, aimless driving, Ultravox quoting, serial killer hysteria, literary repetition, run-on sentences, and gay sex a-go-go. Basically, another generation-defining read by Bret Easton Ellis. And it is good.
Following the death of John Hughes in 2009, Ellis remains as one of the leading voices for Gen Xers. His writings are full of solitary teens thinking and behaving in adult manners belaying their physicality. They are rich. They are hip. They listen to the best music ever made. And are oh-so dirty. All representing the ultimate Gen X dream of privileged independence.
The Shards is written in first person memoir-style. A young Bret Ellis is popular-by-association in the preppy Buckley High of 1981 where his lustful thoughts of boys (and men, and occasionally his girlfriend) intersect with the gnarly killings of the Trawler, a serial killer who is preying on the young and hip of Beverly Hills. Bret becomes obsessed with both. And listens to a lot of Ultravox all the while. No doubt Ellis did listen to Ultravox in the Eighties (probably still does – and so should you!), the Bret Ellis of The Shards is the most unreliable of narrators. The Bret of the story, like the author himself, is a writer and elaboration is his craft.
Ellis, like his characters within, tends to ramble. Certain thoughts, phrases, and themes are restated enough to become wearisome. Yet his deep teenage drama, which reads much more relevant than nostalgic, remains compelling as Ellis strengthens the lives of his friends: the hunky Thom, the gorgeous Susan, the outgoing Debbie, and mysterious Robert.
While elements of these neurotic, bohemian teens might almost seem like a retconned prequel for Less Than Zero, the unfocused roving and contemplations of the Trawler’s existence places The Shards more as a spiritual cousin to American Psycho. Similar to how the reader does not accompany Patrick Bateman out until nearly at the novel’s halfway point, so too do the Trawler’s antics nearly become forgotten during large chunks of life at Buckley… until they take the forefront. Ellis then has Bret’s life as a gay teen seeking nothing more than to quietly finish out his senior year converging with the Trawler mystery in a surprisingly personal way.
With lots of blood. Of course. And keen attention to high-end sports cars.
The Shards can come across as grating wish fulfillment. The teens range from totally obnoxious to absolutely ridiculous, especially with the amount of free drugs and alcohol readily available, not to mention absurd absentee parenting. But Ellis also presents truths – and ones that span the generations – such as ignorance, where the teens are little more than incoherent Charlie Brown-adults making mhaw-wah-wah noises to the grown-ups in the room; the importance to find one’s way, regardless if you are a snotty seventeen-year-old with a penchant for Stanley Kubrik movies; and the dangers that society always presents, even in safe, sunny Beverly Hills.
In short, Bret Easton Ellis has crafted a perfect Gen X novel. Soundtrack included.