Less Than Zero is the controversial debut novel published by Bret Easton Ellis, a story of sex, drugs and violence among a 1980's generation of upper class youth in suburban LA.
The narrative follows Clay, an 18 year old college student returning home for the Christmas period in which he reunites with old friends and resumes a lifestyle of heavy partying, heavy drug use and casual sexual encounters. Clay and his friends' wealthy backgrounds enable them to live comfortably and fund their expensive daily activties; however, what on the surface seems to be a desirable and exotic living situation is far different in reality.
Clay struggles from the offset of his return to connect emotionally with anyone he surrounds himself with; his relationship with his family is non-existent, he appears to have completely lost faith in old friends such as model Trent, drug dealer Rip, and former best friend turned gigolo Julian, while his relationship with girlfriend Blair has deteriorated to the point of both openly partaking in random sexual encounters with other friends and aquintances on a regular basis.
His obvious resentment of family and friends is made painfully clear through the stream of conciousness narrative which the author employs, and Clay's disaffected and utterly indifferent nature is relfected in his fellow youths, all of whom showcase an indefinable alien nature, drifting through a monotonous life of disconnected, lethargic social gatherings.
Clay has adapted to the nature of his teenage society out of necessity to survive within it; while there are hints of feeling and concern in his tone toward sometimes girlfriend Blair, he is hesitant to commit to her or discuss his feelings, seemingly out of fear of the emotional harm it may bring. By avoiding these issues and becoming another clone within his circle of friends, he is immune to the brutal reality and obscene behaviour which surrounds him. Throughout the novel Clay battles to conceal his disturbance (even to the reader) in an effort to avoid confronting the destruction and downfall of those around him.
Ellis' writing style is the true brilliance of the novel, perfectly capturing Clay's bewilderment at the apathetic, nihilistic society which he finds himself living in. Clay's almost aggressive apathy and disconnect burns through the pages at the reader, forcing an emotional reaction which the characters are incapable of. As the novel draws to a close and events spiral out of control, Ellis' uncompromising and brutal delivery makes for shocking reading as the reader is immersed within the disturbingly real world of Clay and his friends.
Ultimately, Less Than Zero is an astonishingly accomplished debut novel that both shocks and disturbs; Ellis at age 21 had called into the question the moral and ethical downfall of American youth like no author before or since. The innovative writing style and unique delivery which Ellis applies dominates the book, resulting in a significant literary acheivement and the beginning of a career which would continue to astound the literary world.