The Uncomfortable Shock of Recognition


Over at the Guardian, Scottish author Irvine Welsh makes a case for Bret Easton Ellis’s often reviled, always controversial American Psycho as a modern classic. Welsh—the author of his own modern classic, Trainspotting—defends the novel, insisting that the qualities that make it uncomfortable for us as readers are why it’s so profound:

American Psycho holds a hyper-real, satirical mirror up to our faces, and the uncomfortable shock of recognition it produces is that twisted reflection of ourselves, and the world we live in. It is not the “life-affirming” (so often a coded term for “deeply conservative”) novel beloved of bourgeois critics. It offers no easy resolutions to suburbanites, serves up no comforting knowledge that the flawed but fundamentally decent super guy is on hand to rescue them from the bad folks. There is no suggestion that either love or faith can save the day. All that remains is the impression that we have created a world devoid of compassion and empathy, a fertile breeding ground for monsters to thrive while hiding in plain sight.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →