"When you give up life for fiction you become a character," muses the narrator in Bret Easton Ellis's forthcoming novel, Lunar Park. The narrator, "Bret Easton Ellis," promises to tell the tale of how a famous writer comes to terms with the nightmare of his own creations. Along the way, readers are challenged to guess what is real and what is made up, just as "Ellis" is. Lunar Park begins with a capsule recounting of Ellis's career. Recognizable publishing folk—Jay McInerney, agent Binky Urban, Knopf's Sonny Mehta, editor Gary Fisketjon, publicist Paul Bogaards, and Grove's Morgan Entrekin—make cameos that lend more than a hint of verisimilitude. Where does reality end and fiction begin in Lunar Park? To help with this question, we've isolated the publishing history as reflected in the book and compared it to what really happened. In August, readers will decide who is the real Bret Easton Ellis, and whether it matters.
FICTION: Ellis refers to Morgan Entrekin as "the editor who discovered me" and credits an unnamed teacher at "Camden College" with giving the manuscript for Less than Zero to his agent and publisher.
FACT: Entrekin departed Simon & Schuster shortly after acquiring Less than Zero, leaving it to Bob Asahina to publish the book in 1985. Asahina is never named in LunarPark, nor is the real-life teacher at Bennington who submitted the debut novel, Joe McGinniss.
FICTION:Less than Zero "became a huge bestseller and zeitgeist touchstone, was translated into 30 languages and made into a big-budget Hollywood movie." The author's many media appearances include "a lively conversation on Firing Line" with William F. Buckley.
FACT: All true, including the Buckley chat.
FICTION: S&S drops American Psycho because of its pornographic and extremely violent content. Knopf's Sonny Mehta buys the rights, but even before it's published, the book is widely denounced. The New York Times runs a pre-pub review under the headline "Don't Buy This Book." Ellis is branded "the most misogynistic American writer in existence." The National Organization of Women organizes a boycott against him.
FACT: S&S decided not to publish American Psycho, forfeiting a $300,000 advance. Mehta bought the rights and Vintage published it as a trade paperback. The book was widely condemned, including in a New York Times review that ran under the headline, "Snuff This Book! Will Bret Easton Ellis Get Away With Murder?" NOW called for a boycott of the book. But some members of the literary community—including Anna Quindlen writing in the New York Times—defended publication of the book. Mehta has openly criticized S&S's decision to drop the novel, and continues to say that he is proud of having published it. As for Ellis, he says, far from advocating violence against women, he considers the book to be "almost a feminist tract."
FICTION:American Psycho sells "millions of copies."
FACT:American Psycho has sold about 600,000 copies in the U.S. since it was published in 1990 and continues to be strong in backlist, moving about 22,000 copies a year.
FICTION: A 16-month world tour to promote Glamorama turns into one long drug binge. In Denver, Ellis cancels an appearance at the Tattered Cover for "lack of dope." He ends up broke after blowing millions on parties, drugs, designer clothes and rehab.
FACT:Glamorama turned out to be a disappointment, critically and commercially. Ellis will get his chance at a comeback next month, when Knopf publishes LunarPark, his first new novel in seven years, giving it a first printing of 75,000 copies.
FICTION: A writer named Jaime Clarke is publishing an unauthorized biography of Ellis with Bloomsbury, titled Ellis Island. Also, a fan posing as a student begins acting out the murders in American Psycho.
FACT: Writer Jaime Clarke briefly shopped an unauthorized Ellis bio in 2000, but the project was never picked up. Clarke, who attended Bennington after Ellis and later wrote the novel We're So Famous(Bloomsbury, 2001), is now working on a novel about a young writer obsessed with Ellis.
The Love Life
FICTION: Ellis fathers a child with and marries model-turned-actress Jayne Dennis. But after making sarcastic comments about being "outed" during an interview, he is named one of the Advocate's "100 Most Interesting Gay People" of the year.
FACT: Ellis has never been married. Jayne Dennis is fictitious, but based on a woman the author knows. The Advocate has no such list.