Life imitates 'art' in Bernardo 'bible'

September 1, 1995
Toronto Sun
By Alan Cairns and Scott Burnside

The controversial novel American Psycho was found at Paul Bernardo's bedside and he read it as his "bible," prosecutors argued at the murder trial.

But the jury did not get to hear anything about the much-criticized Bret Easton Ellis fiction about a Wall Street stockbroker turned serial killer because trial judge Patrick LeSage said it would be too prejudicial to Bernardo's fair trial.

American Psycho would be inadmissible, LeSage ruled, unless it could be proved that the kidnappings of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French came as a direct result of the book being used as a blueprint.

"There is no question that what is written in this novel is violent, perverted and to use the vernacular, 'sick'.  This book, if tendered and read in whole or in part by the jury would have significant prejudicial effect," LeSage said.

Assistant Crown attorney Greg Barnett said when Bernardo pored over the plot synopsis on the back cover of American Psycho he must have found that Ellis' fictional yuppie stockbroker, Patrick Bateman, was a mirror image of himself.

The back cover reads: "Patrick Bateman is handsome, well educated, intelligent.  He works by day on Wall Street, earning a fortune to complement the one he was born with.  His nights he spends in ways we cannot begin to fathom.  He is twenty-six years old and living his own American Dream."  Bernardo bought the book April 17, 1991 at a Walden Books store in New York state.

Bernardo shared the same initials and, at the time of the book's release, was the same age as Patrick Bateman.

Yuppie clothes

Like Bernardo, Bateman and his Wall Street colleagues wore all the yuppie designer-brand clothes -- Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Nautica.

The Lauren line, incidently, pops up nearly 100 times in the book.

Homolka said in testimony that she bought Bernardo an imitation Rolex for his birthday; Bateman wore a Rolex.

Bateman kept his healthy skin glow by going to a tanning salon; so did Bernardo.

In a review of the book, Halton Regional Police Const. Mike Demeester noted that Bateman's girlfriend, Evelyn, is blonde and attractive, in many ways like Karla.  Upon leaving the office at night, Demeester noted, Bateman transcends into a dark netherworld, where he kills both men and women, especially women.  And, like Bateman, Bernardo's rape dialogue centred on woman-hating obscenities such as "f--king whore" and "bitch".

Police who searched Bernardo's home in February 1993 found the copy of the book in the master bedroom, tucked between the bed and the bedside table.  Inside were the receipt and a book review from the Toronto Sun which carried the headline: "Book a Sad Comment on our Society: American Psycho is Sicko".  American Psycho was one of 36 other books found in the Bernardo home, some of them fiction, some non-fiction, but many detailing scenes of horror or crime.

In interviews with police, Homolka said Bernardo read it, but she found it sickening and only read part of it.

Publisher backs out

American Psycho became controversial long before its release in the winter of 1990-91. Ellis' original publisher, New York's Simon & Schuster, cancelled its contract with Ellis in November 1990 after the jacket designer bowed out of the project with the comment, "I felt disgusted with myself for reading it."

After other company insiders voiced their disgust at a sales conference meeting, Ellis was told to keep his manuscript and the $300,000 Simon & Schuster had paid him in advance of his third novel.

Time magazine assailed the book as "a revolting development" after details were leaked, but on November 16, 1990, Vintage Books, a branch of Random House, bought the rights and released it anyway.

Critics reacted swiftly:

"I hope Mr. Ellis realizes that when this book comes out and women are killed and tortured in the same fashion as is described in American Psycho, I hope he understands that he must take responsibility for this!" - Feminist Gloria Steinem, on Larry King Live.

I worry about "unstable people reading this kind of material". - Elliot Layton, anthropologist and author of Hunting Humans: The Rise of the Modern Multiple Murderer, in Macleans, April 1991.

"A monstrous book." - Norman Mailer, in Vanity Fair

But consumers reacted faster: within a couple of months the paperback had sold more than 100,000 copies at $14 each.

Scenes in the book have Bateman talking of women solely as objects.  There is no noted human sexuality in his sex scenes: women and men are described in terms of genitalia.

Some passages include:

"I rerent Body Double because I want to watch it again tonight even though I know I won't have enough time to masturbate over the scene where the woman is getting drilled to death by a power drill since I have a date..."

At gunpoint

"I say, staring at her, quite clearly but muffled by Pump Up The Volume and the crowd, 'You are a f--ing ugly bitch I want to stab you to death and play around with your blood,' but I'm smiling.  I leave the c--- no tip..."

"Idly, I wonder if Evelyn would sleep with another woman if I brought one over to her brownstone and, if I insisted, whether they'd let me watch the two of them get it on.  If they'd let me direct, tell them what to do, position them under hot halogen lamps.  Probably not: the odds don't look good.  But what if I forced her at gunpoint? Threatened to cut them both up, maybe, if they didn't comply?"

"I set up the Sony palm-sized Handycam so I can film all of what follows.  Once it's placed on its stand and running on automatic, with a pair of scissors... I occasionally stab at her breasts, accidentally slicing off one of her nipples... she starts screaming again once I've ripped her dress off, leaving Bethany in only her bra, its right cup darkened with blood, and her panties, which are soaked with urine, saving them for later..."

Depraved and sadistic sex acts degenerate even further and the gratuitous sex and violence increases as the book goes on.

Certain Bateman narratives illuminate the point Ellis was laboriously trying to reach: "Soon everything seemed dull: another sunrise, the lives of heroes, falling in love, war, the discoveries people made about each other... there wasn't a clear, identifiable emotion within me, except for greed and, possibly, total disgust.  I had all the characteristics of a human being -- flesh, blood, skin, hair -- but my depersonalization was so intense, had gone so deep, that the normal ability to feel compassion had been eradicated, the victim of a slow, purposeful erasure.

"I was simply imitating reality, a rough resemblance of a human being, with only a dim corner of my mind functioning.  Something horrible was happening and yet I couldn't figure out why -- I couldn't put my finger on it."  In the last chapter, Bateman daydreams into questioning himself why he is how he is.  He sighs, shrugs, sighs again, then relates he is that way because that's just the way it is -- he is a product of late 20th Century society and it is completely out of his control.

Sick society

At the time of its release, author Ellis defended the novel in a Playboy interview as a reflection of a sick society.

"There is a level of human savagery and cruelty that is undeniable.  If we can't reflect it in our culture, if we're intolerant of it, what does that mean?  Do we want evil diminished in art because we don't always get that in our everyday life?"