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'Lunar' phases revolve around fact, fiction

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* LUNAR PARK, by Bret Easton Ellis; Knopf, 320 pages, $25.

Bret Easton Ellis used to make events out of his books. "American Psycho," his best-known work, earned him a call for a boycott from the National Organization for Women. Published in 1991, the story about a Wall Street broker turned serial killer made him one of the most vilified authors of his time.

With "Lunar Park," his first novel since 1998, Ellis creates an event out of his own persona. Or, to be more accurate, out of a persona that happens to be named Bret Easton Ellis - famous author, drug addict, husband to Hollywood actress Jayne Dennis, father to a son, Robby. Only one of these descriptions seems to be true in reality, even if there exists a Web site devoted to Dennis and her work, which even includes a picture of Ellis and his spouse.

The first chapter of "Lunar Park" thus introduces us to the strange universe of said author B.E. Ellis, recounts his celebrity life, explains how he ended up a married man in nameless and faceless suburbia and concludes: "All of it really happened, every word is true."

Venturing between fact and fiction is not exactly a novelty in literature, but Ellis manages this delicate balancing act almost until the end with excellent narrative skills.

So, what is the story? Only a few months after Ellis moves in with his new wife, his out-of-wedlock son and his wife's daughter from an earlier marriage, the fragile stability in the author's life seems to crumble again. He does not manage to deal with his 11-year- old son, Robby, whom he unwillingly fathered and never got to know. At a nearby college, where Ellis teaches a writing class, he makes advances to a not-so-reluctant student who is writing her thesis on Ellis' work.

The initial point of deterioration is a Halloween party, where Jay McInerney (author of "Bright Lights, Big City" and, like Ellis, once part of the "literary brat pack") has a cameo appearance. The two "do some coke."

Ellis did not pick the Halloween motif at random. "Lunar Park" is constructed as a psychological horror story, juggling references to Stephen King novels and various other genre novels and movies. The newly built house the family lives in seems haunted. For months, boys from the area have been disappearing. The dog behaves strangely. A killer seems to mimic the grisly murders described in "American Psycho." Every night, the tormented author receives e- mails from a bank, exactly at the time his father died.

"Lunar Park" is dedicated to Ellis' late father, and father-son relations are central to the book. Here the story grapples with an issue that digs deep into the psyche of its author. The protagonist's underlying yearning for reconciliation is such that it gives the novel genuine depth.

"Lunar Park" is very well-crafted, rich with suspense and drama, observant of suburban life and rites, the roads to estrangement and the pathway to self-destruction.

(C) 2005 The Record, Bergen County, NJ. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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