Thursday 21 June 2012

The Rules of Attraction

The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis is a novel about over-sexed, drug-addled undergraduates at an elite liberal arts college in 1980s New Hampshire. It’s comedic in many places, but also quite sad in many others. Various people pine over others who barely realize they exist, people commit suicide, girls get pregnant and have abortions but are offered little to no support by those around them, everybody drinks (and does drugs) way too much, and girls get date raped. Whew. I swear, though, there are funny parts!

I’m actually just going to talk about a small portion of the book – obviously, the part that involves a Dick. One of the main characters, Paul Denton, is summoned to Boston to visit his mother, who flew in from Chicago with her friend Mrs. Jared. Mrs. Jared’s son, Richard (a student at Sarah Lawrence and Paul’s friend since childhood), also comes to Boston.

It is soon revealed that, although Richard and Paul were pretty close in high school, they are mostly friends with benefits. As he waits for Richard to arrive, Paul remembers that he has had sex with Richard before. Later, Richard arrives epically drunk and disheveled, but Paul still notes that he is pretty hot.

During the short visit, Richard proves to be both a major jerk and somewhat cute. He’s exceptionally crass at the dinner table, telling a horribly racist joke and continually molesting Paul’s penis with his foot (would that be a foot job?). Richard then leaves the table, goes to a movie, and returns to the room he and Paul are sharing several hours later.

Back in the room, Richard is less tedious. Maybe the movie sobered him up a tad. Anyway, he’s kind of cute then, reminiscing with Paul and flirting with him. Then the two have sex. Paul leaves early the next morning, although that’s mainly because he’s irritated at his mother and wants to get back to his untrustworthy pseudo-significant other on campus.

Two other things are worth mentioning. One, Paul shows signs throughout the book of being an unreliable narrator, so it’s entirely possible that much of what we, as readers, know about Richard isn’t true. However, it’s likely true, as there is some other evidence to back up Paul’s claims.

Two: a couple of times, Richard insists that he wants to be called “Dick.” This leads me to an exciting new corollary to my (just now dubbed but already proven largely false) Van-Wilder-Theorem-on-Fictional-Dicks: if you want to show in a blatant way that your male character is largely a sex object, name him Dick/Richard.

*My Van-Wilder Theorem was introduced here. In brief, I speculate that authors name certain male antagonists Dick in order to immediately convey to the audience that these characters are, in fact, dicks. So far, this holds true for Van Wilder and Crocodile Dundee.

And as a bonus, a fun quote from Paul (who wants to have sex with a guy he doesn’t know is gay or straight):

“I wondered suddenly if he was Catholic. My spirits rose: Catholic boys will usually do anything.”

Insert your own tasteless joke!

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