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Bret Easton Ellis goes back to the well, and it is dry.

Review By Mike Fischer

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Imperial Bedrooms, Bret Easton Ellis' sixth novel, is being billed as "a sequel of sorts" to Less Than Zero, his blockbuster 1985 debut about life in the fast lane, which catapulted him to fame before he had even graduated from college.

Less Than Zero has no plot and flat characters, reflecting a world of privilege and depravity in which truth and meaning are negotiable because they never leave the surface.

The best passages in Zero remind me of Joan Didion's The White Album, which chronicles an earlier turning point in California's history with the same mix of keen observation and narrative restraint.

The best passages in Bedrooms rarely even remind me of Zero, which is a much better book because it doesn't worry so much about whether it qualifies as a novel.

After opening with an awkward metafictional framing device, Bedrooms begins much as Zero did: with Clay getting off a plane in Los Angeles, just before Christmas. More than 20 years older and now a screenwriter, he is in town to help cast a film based on a script he wrote. The central figures from the brat pack in Zero are still around, struggling to find their role in "a mosaic of youth, a place you don't really belong anymore."

But once Ellis reintroduces these characters and puts them on their feet, he doesn't know what to do with them and therefore can't make them move - or make them moving.

As a result, we're treated to yet another iteration of the same increasingly tired story Ellis has been telling from the beginning, featuring over-exposed views of a dystopian Los Angeles in which networking is really about narcissism, sex is about power, mutilated bodies are inevitable and everyone wears sunglasses.

Ellis can write, but he seems unable to generate substance from style by telling a story as well as setting a scene. One character's indictment of Clay applies to Ellis here as well: "You have no imagination. You're actually very by-the-numbers."

Imperial Bedrooms

By Bret Easton Ellis

Knopf, 192 pages, $25