Once upon a time, I wanted to be Bret Easton Ellis, American novelist and author to date of Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho, The Informers, Glamorama, Lunar Park, and Imperial Bedrooms. I guess I was the last to realize this (I thought I wanted to be F. Scott Fitzgerald), but friends and fellow writers were kind enough not to point it out. If anything I think I thought I wanted to be a character in a Bret Easton Ellis novel: cool, dispassionate, cynical and satiric. As I stumbled out of the midnight showing of the film version of Less Than Zeroback in 1987, my sixteen-year old mind was convinced that these characteristics were the foundation of any sophisticated teenage upbringing. Too, I identified with the protagonist, Clay, whose loyalty to his friends expressed itself on paternal grounds: he’d do anything for his friends and I felt the same way. – Jaime Clarke in B.E.E & Me
Have you ever had this urgent feeling after reading a book that you simply must get to know the author, because their work speaks to you in a very special way? Most of us experience that feeling at some point in our life, some of us might have gone as far as sending a letter or an email to an agent or publisher asking to be passed on to our hero author, or if you were lucky enough you might have attended an author meeting or a book reading event organised as a part of book tour.
But few of us can count themselves as lucky as Jaime Clarke, whose fascination with writing and life of Bret Easton Ellis resulted in his actual acquaintance with the author of American Psycho. Clarke’s youthful adulation with Bret Easton Ellis became an inspiration for writing Vernon Downs, a witty and gripping novel which explores the exciting and dark world of literary celebrity.
Vernon Downs, listed by The Millions as one of the Most Anticipated Books for 2014 and voted by The Week as one of 18 Books to Read in 2014, is coming out on April 15th, and has earned an early praise from writers like Tom Perrotta, Dana Spiotta and Matthew Specktor. To see what the fuss is all about listen to Chris Cooper’s reading from Vernon Downs and read Jaime Clarke’s amusing and fascinating essay, B.E.E. & Me: A True Story behind Vernon Downs which depicts the actual events that lead to Clarke’s acquaintance with Bret Easton Ellis.
Aspiring writer Charlie Martens believes his future depends on just one thing: marrying the woman who loves him. An explosion that killed his parents when he was young landed him in foster care and he’s desperate to get off the carousel of foster homes and start a family of his own. But when his fiancée leaves him and quickly marries someone else, his desperate mind fixates on Vernon Downs: together they read all of Downs’ novels, saw the films based on his books, and followed Downs’s movements through glimpses in gossip columns and profiles in glossy magazines. Once abandoned, Vernon Downs becomes a talisman for Charlie. He writes chastising letters to reviewers critical of Downs, co-opts Downs’s writing style and themes for his own work, and even enrolls in a summer writing program at Camden, Downs’s alma mater—all in an effort to feel a real connection with the author who meant so much to him and the love of his life…and perhaps find a way back to her. After finessing Downs’s home address from the alumni office at Camden, Charlie solicits the author for the first full-length interview he’s given in years. Downs agrees and his offhanded suggestion at the end of the interview that Charlie move to New York City to begin his life as an apprentice writer seems like a dream. He does and quickly ingratiates himself into Downs’s dizzying world of glamour and celebrity. When Downs asks Charlie to apartment sit and help organize his archives while he’s away finishing a new novel, Charlie can hardly believe his luck. But the offer invites certain temptations and it isn’t long before Charlie moves dangerously from fandom to apprentice to outright possession.
“Vernon Downs is a gripping, hypnotically written and unnerving look at the dark side of literary adulation. Jaime Clarke’s tautly suspenseful novel is a cautionary tale for writers and readers alike—after finishing it, you may start to think that J.D. Salinger had the right idea after all.” –Tom Perrotta, author of Election, Little Children, and The Leftovers
“What makes Clarke’s excellent novel stand out isn’t just its rueful intelligence, but its startling sadness. Vernon Downs is first rate.” – Matthew Specktor, author of American Dream Machine
“Vernon Downs is a fascinating and sly tribute to a certain fascinating and sly writer, but this novel also perfectly captures the lonely distortions of a true obsession.” – Dana Spiotta, author of Stone Arabia