The satirical horror of Elliss debut Less Than Zero devotes the novel its seductive force
TaB was submitted in 1963 as Coca-Cola’s first diet booze. It applied zero-calorie saccharin instead of carbohydrate, an innovation that was intended to invigorate people to indulge in carbonated sweetness without worrying about packing on the pounds. Eventually, amusement could be enjoyed without guilt, peril or retribution. Forget water- here was a soda to stir life carefree. Drink TaB and “youre ever” released from mortal concern and responsibility, the ads indicated. More facetiously, commercial-grades with skinny ladies sucking down TaB sold customers the idea that drinking it would build you thin. TaB was less than zero, in this sense.
I remember first envisioning TaB in movies in the 80 s, when the drink rose to popularity. And it appears in Less Than Zero by the 21 -year-old Bret Easton Ellis, with some frequency. Appropriately, within the first several pages, we hear that Muriel, a minor character, has been admitted to infirmary with anorexia. TaB’s nothingness seems central to the meaningless luxuries and woes of the 80 s boy generation: immunity and ineffectuality are the highest privileges of the young, beautiful and rich. Less Than Zero exploits that ineffectuality with minimalism, compressing ennui into dreaded, and then into horror. Thus, it succeeds in stimulating something out of nothing.
The novel’s premise is simple-minded: Clay, an 18 -year-old college freshman, returns dwelling to Los Angeles for the winter transgres. His ex-girlfriend, Blair, picks him up from the airport and drives him residence, “where hes” greeted by no one but a brand-new housekeeper and the ripped poster of Elvis Costello on his bedroom wall. This is not LA at large, but a very specific gated ground of multimillion-dollar dwellings, pond boys, private chefs, Lamborghinis, flawless skin, smog and diamonds, designer clothes, and narcissism so rampant it is considered the status quo. During his few weeks at home, Clay reconnects with old friends, parties, drives around, fools around with a guy and a few daughters, remembers things, get manipulated into lending money to a friend who has to turn tricks to pay off a obligation, the usual rich-kid hijinks.