It is somewhat hard to pinpoint just what is so fascinating about Ellis' writing—fascinating to many, that is, but perhaps boring or confusing to others because 'nothing happens.' I've read four of his other works at this point (Less Than Zero, Imperial Bedrooms, American Psycho, and Glamorama, in that order), and in every case, his characters are absolutely despicable people, ranging from the spoiled, over-priviliged brat to the psychotic serial-torturer. They are frequently ultra-rich, apathetic to everything, stoic, extremely entitled, disgustingly selfish, and the list goes on.
Perhaps one reason Ellis' work is so enticing is that we as humans are captivated by watching others behave more badly than ourselves; taking their wretchedness to the extreme, so to speak, and acting more perversely than we would ever dare or imagine. To some degree, we find depravity fun to read about. Few (if any) of Ellis' characters are sympathetic, and yet most of us probably feel some level of horrified sympathy for them anyway for the way they are destroying themselves and don't even recognize it. That said, his characters don't need to be sympathetic in order to be interesting, or to seem realistic.
The Informers is a collection of loosely-connected stories set in 1980's California, primarily Los Angeles. Each chapter is told from a different narrator's voice and it is sometimes unclear whether they are male or female until several pages into the story. While certain characters appear in multiple stories, there does not seem to be a great deal of importance in keeping track of who is who most of the time. This is not because the characters are flat, per se, but more because they are often so indiscernible from each other in their actions; everyone is constantly drinking, getting stoned, doing coke, going to high-class restaurants, sleeping with each other without consideration or consequence, etc. Generally, the current narrator of each story is the only one with any depth and thus the one to whom you ought give your attention.
The above paragraph might seem like a criticism, but I assure you it isn't. Ellis is able to make these lifeless, over-indulgent, self-destructive characters work for his style of narrative, as he always has (in my experience). Amidst the paragraphs of rampant drug use, easy sex, and designer clothing are moments—sometimes single sentences—of keen human observation; still, small, seemingly benign details that express the tragedy or beauty of a scene. Also, the people he creates do feel authentic, even if they’re terrible human beings.
The stories that stood out to me most were, “The Up Escalator,” “In the Islands,” (these both featuring, to my perception, the closest thing to sympathetic characters in the collection), “Water from the Sun,” “The Secrets of Summer,” and lastly, “On the Beach.” I particularly enjoyed “The Secrets of Summer” because it took such an interesting, unexpected turn which I will not spoil here.
Bret Easton Ellis is not for everyone, and for readers new to his work I would not recommend The Informers as a great place to start (Less Than Zero is a better introduction to what you’re in for; American Psycho is wonderful and mesmerizing, but not for the weak of heart). Still, I found this to be a very solid read. Each of these stories stands on its own, and yet together they present a sort of grotesque whole. Ellis has such a delicate way of presenting satire (not that the content is delicate), but in the way that the deeper commentary sneaks up on you in the midst of a presentation of vile circumstances. I can’t say I was expecting not to like this, but I can say I was surprised with just how much I appreciated it. One of the best books I’ve read in 2014.