In the mid 1980s, the publishing world fixated on an author’s first novel, a tale of a young man’s coming of age in the midst of the 1980s: Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis.
The author, aged 21 at the time, was still in college when the book was published in 1985 by Simon & Schuster.
Written in first person, the book focused on the character of 18 year old Clay, when he returns home to Los Angeles during his winter break from college.
Clay reconnects with his friends – Trent, who is now a successful model, who regularly has one night stands with men and women, Blair, his ex girlfriend with who he suffered a horrible breakup.
Clay realizes he doesn’t enjoy the drug-fueled party scene and the horrible behaviour – like Trent showing a snuff film or friends taking photos of each other taking heroin. Having sex with random people at parties while high, has lost its allure to Clay.
Finding his best friend Julian, he discovers he’s become a heroin addict and works as a prostitute to pay off what he owes to his dealer. Clay witnesses the endless stream of sex and violence that Julian undergoes and sees the debauchery from Julian’s drug dealer Rip, who is in control of everyone and everything.
Through the first person style, Clay reveals his connection to their collective pasts, but also his realization of the need to cut ties with each other now as sees their lives going nowhere.
When published, the book became a bestseller, thanks to the rawness of showing the life of drug use in the 1980s – from the wealthy to those on the streets.
In 1987, the book was made into a film starring Andrew McCarthy, Robert Downey Jr and Jami Goertz, and was not liked by the author, who refused to see it, as they changed the plot to make the lead character an anti-drug crusader, who comes home to save his friends from their drug use.
At the time, this book revealed what most people didn’t want to see – that there was an unsavoury culture of rich, narcissistic, and ignorant wealthy people – something we now know to be true.