And I'd pretend
That I was a billboard
By the side of the road
I fell in love
With a beautiful highway
Recently, I became aware of the news that ‘Bank’ the turtle, who occupied a public pond in Thailand, had died in late March. According to the article from the Guardian, the cause of Bank’s death was extreme blood poisoning from the amount of coins the creature had swallowed. The coins had been thrown in the pool by the public in exchange for wishes, yet such an innocent gesture had unforeseen and deathly consequences for the turtle who became only closer to its tragic fate with each throw. Bank swallowed 5kg of coins, and despite immediate medical attention was unable to be saved. Throwing spare shrapnel into a fountain is an act that many of us are familiar with, and I am guilty myself of obliviously throwing change into a pond full of fish and other wildlife. Evidently, despite the sheer amount of coins in the water, nobody had made a wish for Bank.
What struck me about the story, however, was its uncanny familiarity and its strangeness, and the reason for this comes from the fact that I’d read almost the exact same story before inside Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho. Patrick Bateman, the psychopathic narrator of the novel, visits a zoo and passes a sign reading “COINS CAN KILL”. Yet Patrick willingly tosses a handful of coins into the tank, musing that “it’s not the seals I hate – it’s the audience’s enjoyment of them that bothers me”. His money, and its connotations of his economic capital, serve only to kill. It is Patrick’s money that gives him power over others with which he uses to murder and mutilate. This scene in the zoo is only one of many that act as a social critique from Ellis, one that the article on Bank shows resonates heavily within the real world.
Reading this novel for the first time in 2016 had an uncanny effect on the way I interacted with present political issues. Donald Trump’s name is mentioned frequently yet passingly, as Patrick thinks he sees Trump at the same restaurant, on the same street, in the next car. It’s like, though written in 1991, Ellis somehow knew it would be important to mention these figures in the text. And it’s because they’re important in real life – because despite Patrick’s obvious fictionality as a character that is so fragmented by his own psychosis, he does exist. He is both suspended in the yuppie culture of the 1980s, but it is a refraction of a real-life culture that has morphed into the present social issues we face today. There is a special kind of liminality in this text, in how it is both real, then fictional, and then both at the same time.
Ellis makes sure to highlight this paradox through use of his epigraph. He makes reference to Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground stating that:
Both the author of these Notes and the Notes themselves are, of course, fictional. Never the less, such persons as the composer of these Notes not only exist in our society, but indeed must exist, considering the circumstances under which our society has generally been formed.
In order to write about such a society, Ellis had to become part of it. In his research for the novel he moved to New York and began taking on the role of the personalities he was criticising. For Ellis writing American Psycho, the yuppie is a model in which to create Patrick Bateman that inevitably exists in the real world. Ellis writes the kind of fiction that is deeply rooted inside reality – even the books themselves bear metafictional readings. Their characters have cameos in other books and appear in the works of other authors. Like reality, the Ellis universe exists as a web of connections and complexities that needs to be mirrored.
The revelation of this fictional blur was troubling. For if such a novel exists for people to read and engage with, then surely it could never be just an abstraction? Surely somewhere, at some time, this was somebody’s reality – perhaps not exactly, but as a real-life translation of the novel as a literary construction. Bank’s death, however, is a frightening and real example of the false distinction between fiction and real life. It bares the question, does reality inform fiction, or is it the other way round?
 ‘(Nothing but) Flowers’, Talking Heads © 1988
American Psycho is published by Picador