Cover Controversy


Controversy is nothing new in the literary world. In fact, the controversy surrounding a publication enhances the allure of the author’s message and the protagonist’s journey. Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho may very well be the most controversial novel of the early 90’s. The brilliant and insightful consider 80’s yuppie culture follows Patrick Bateman, a stock broker by day and a serial killer by night. Obsessed with his own narcissism, Bateman slowly losses his grasp on reality. As Bateman’s world comes crashing down, the surrounding upper echelon of society is too self-absorbed to take notice.

One of the many redeeming qualities the novel offers readers is the second commercialized cover. The expensive suit, executive haircut, groomed features, and blank stare do so much more than capture the attention of a potential audience, it conveys what’s inside Bateman’s soul: nothing.


The first commercialized cover focused on a more romanticized idea of the novel. 

Why the expensive get up and the well-groomed appearance? Bateman’s narcissistic personality requires him to “out do” his colleagues and fellow patrons on his expensive outings. The novel covers his morning routine along with his workout schedule and other grooming habits in painstaking detail, even going so far as to list the cost of every item. This version of the cover conveys the beautiful outside that Bateman projects to the world yet allows the emptiness some serial killer projects in their true form.

Complementary to the detail of the protagonist’s face, is the presence projected from the camera position. Any other camera angle doesn’t quite capture how the protagonist and the novel progress between the pages, but centered up close still does wonders for the cover. I don’t how many pictures used during publication, but anyone can appreciate the spot-on characterization that tells just enough of about Bateman not to give away the plot line.

The typeface and positioning of the text is also an eye grabber. Smaller text and alignment of the previous cover was more of a traditional placement (centered, proportionate to the artist rendering), but this pattern is deliberately broken. Why? The answer lies within the juxtaposition of the illogical placement of the lettering (symbolizing Bateman’s mental decline) and the well put together male figure used in the photograph.

Nobody can deny the impact American Psycho exerted on American culture. Transitioning from the self-absorbed late 80’s yuppie culture to a new freer thinking ideology of the 90’s; the piece pulls no punches. Just like the cover however, one gloss over only gives a small piece of what the true meaning behind this work of art. One may have an idea of the work’s true message, but every read through gives a new insight into the twisted world of Patrick Bateman.

“…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there. (Ellis, 1991) (Pressman, Hanley, Solomon, Haron, 2000).” 

-Evan Thomas



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