Even when Bret Easton Ellis writes about killer yuppies and terrorist fashion models, a lot of people still think he's writing about himself. Ellis spoofs that idea right out of the gate in Lunar Park, which opens with a long chapter about Bret Easton Ellis: his bestselling books, his epic drug binges, his pansexual orgies, his movie-star wife, his public feud with Keanu Reeves, and his guest shot on Family Ties. Ellis keeps the tall tale quasi-plausible, and readers who only know him as a notorious New York party boy and the author of decadent cult novels may have a hard time finding the fiction. So Ellis sticks around for a while as a character in his own book, settling into a domestic horror-comedy in which he, his wife, their 11-year-old son, and her daughter from another marriage endure two haunted weeks in the New England suburbs. A rogue stuffed animal attacks them, the ghost of Ellis' father lurks in the shadows, and the protagonist of Less Than Zero comes to life and begins copying the murders from American Psycho.

A lot goes on in Lunar Park, but the 300-page book still feels stuck in first gear. Ellis-as-author keeps promising astonishing adventures for Ellis-as-character, but for about two-thirds of the novel, the latter moves from one dreary day to the next in a chemically induced fog, terminally bemused by his life as an upper-class husband and father. There are some bravura passages in those early chapters: long descriptions of pre-teen bedrooms and private-school parent/ teacher conferences that document the peculiar stress of a modern childhood. Yet even when he makes himself the hero, Ellis has difficulty concocting a likeable lead. Though frequently funny, Bret Easton Ellis remains bad company.

As for Lunar Park, it lurches from sharp satire to second-tier Stephen King—the latter most likely on purpose, since Ellis is excavating a personal literary past that includes an avowed pre-adolescent King fixation. He doesn't do "pulse-pounding" well, though, and when he reaches for open sentimentality, he winds up looking like a dork. Ellis manages some significant achievement in Lunar Park, both in his generation-removed observations on the latest youth soul-sickness, and in his obvious pining for elusive familial security. He just gets in his own way too much, crippled by his ambition. The kind of genteel sincerity he's migrating toward doesn't need a tricky postmodern framework. A simple "I'm lonely" would do.

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