History: A novel published in 1985. It was the author's first published effort, released while he was 21 and still in college.
In the former child actor Danny Bonaduce's 2002 autobiography, Random Acts of Badness, Bonaduce notes the striking similarity between the fictional high school in Less Than Zero and the now-closed California Prep High School in Encino, California, where Bonaduce, recording artist Michael Jackson, film actor Christian Brando, and other children of wealth and celebrity went to school together. In commenting on the novel, Bonaduce notes, "When the book Less Than Zero came out, all my classmates were pissed. Not because it was an exact portrayal of our school - but because we failed to get any royalties."
Plot: Titled after the Elvis Costello song of the same name, the novel follows the life of Clay, a rich young college student who has returned to his hometown of Los Angeles, California for the winter break during the early 1980s. He spends much of the novel going to parties and doing drugs with his friends. During this time, he must decide whether or not he wants to restart a relationship with Blair, for whom he is uncertain about his feelings. Meanwhile, Clay has one night stands with a few men and women on the side while his relationship with Blair goes downhill. At the same time, he attempts to renew his relationship with his best friend, Julian, who has become a prostitute and drug addict. Throughout his descent into the netherworld of the L.A. drug scene, he loses his faith in his friends, and grows alienated with the amoral party culture he once embraced. He is greatly disturbed by four events: first, his anorexic friend Muriel intravenously takes heroin whilst people watch and take photos; his friend Trent shows a snuff film at a party and only he and Blair seem to be disturbed by it; later, he is forced to sit in a chair for five hours to watch Julian sell himself to a businessman from Muncie, Indiana, in order to get money to support his heroin habit; finally, he meets friends at a concert, only to leave and not only find a dead body that everyone wants to see, but a naked 12-year-old girl who is tied to the posts of a friend's bed, and once again his friends are attracted to it. Eventually, these events lead him to leave Los Angeles, possibly intending never to return.
Review: The novel is a journal of Clay's wanderings in the city and in the loop of wealthy teens who are bored with life. Clay feels a chill in the hot desert wind and counts down the days until he will be through with his Christmas vacation and leave his friends behind again. Clay's friends elite but interchangeable in that nobody stands out as a unique character. We are to glean from the novel that their lack of personality is a product of their lifestyle of excess. The party scene of these friends is appealing at first glance with the swarms of beautiful people eager to please and infinite ways to have a good time, but the party scene gets old after a while and boring to read. The novel is most upsetting with the depiction of eighteen year olds who can have anything that they desire but use this power in sole purpose of drug consumption and sex.
Los Angeles is a scary city full of violence, which Clay witnesses firsthand with his friends. The city seems to numb their moral senses. The culture is saturated with pop songs, video games and pornography that is empty in content but sought after by teens driven crazy with it all. Los Angeles is a moral, mental and physical wasteland blasted by relentless, hot desert wind and sun.
Opening Line: "People are afraid to merge on the freeways in Los Angeles."
Closing Line: "After I left."
Quotes: "But this road doesn't go anywhere," I told him.
That doesn't matter."
What does?" I asked, after a little while.
Just that we're on it, dude," he said."