Book review – The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis

There is something about serial killers from that era around the 70’s-80’s that pulls us in and makes us addicts to its mystery. And if there is one thing Bret Easton Ellis has perfected here, it’s exactly that. 

Bret (yes, he has imposed himself in the story and I kind of hate it, but it also really works!) a 17-year old senior at Buckley is at war with his sexuality and hiding it from his friends. He is obsessed with “the trawler”, a serial killer that has been killing young girls in LA, and he’s disappointed that his friends don’t seem to care. When a new student enrolls and befriends his group, Bret instantly gets suspicious of the new arrival and believes he is hiding something. And so begins a game of who is watching who. 

We are taken back to the early 80’s, Los Angeles described in perfect detail. The movies in the theater, the songs on the radio, the books they read, the shoes on their feet and the cars that they drive down the roads we know. The scene is set and the mood is eerie. The whole way through there’s a vibration that you can’t put your finger on, you feel it in your bones. A sort of drug induced haze lies over the story and while it’s not particularly exciting, it triggers your brain’s pleasure center. You become a spectator to the whole thing sitting in the comfort of “this will never happen to me.” 

A sort of drug induced haze lies over the story and while it’s not particularly exciting, it triggers your brain’s pleasure center.

Until it does, sort of. It takes a while, about 400 pages maybe, before the book goes from a slow and steady second gear to a racing fifth. Luckily I’m a fiction person, so I am happy hanging out in the story. A crime reader who is used to fast pacing, twists and turns, and whodunnits is not going to enjoy this. This is for the people who just enjoy good writing and want to sit in it for a while. Not necessarily looking for an answer or a resolution to it all, but just enjoying the setting and the mood it creates. You can easily create a kick ass playlist with all the songs that are mentioned. (is anyone on that yet?) I, myself, picked up Joan Didion because I wanted to read what Bret reads.

It’s fun because this book straddles the border between reality and fiction. Bret is real, the book he is writing the in the shards is real and published, but the rest of the characters are not. Are some of these experiences real perhaps? The big time film producer doing a casting couch in a bungalow at the beverly hills hotel? Sounds very familiar. If anything, the book feels real and I believed every word of it as I was reading. And I believe that is the sign of great writing, it’s believable. As a mystery thriller, I’d probably give this book three stars, because it’s too slow for the genre. But as a fiction book it’s a five star easy! So I landed in the middle, since the book is aiming for both. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Ps. set in 1981 the book doesn’t try to take into account the recent changes in “wokeness”. It’s not diverse, it’s not PC, it’s raw and selfish. It doesn’t give two shits about it’s secondary characters. We only see things from Bret’s vantage point and he doesn’t really care about the people around him enough to give us backstory or their motivations. But it’s done so well that I don’t care. Which is what, I think, sets this book apart for me, since I’m usually all about giving depth to all your characters.