In her 6.17 N.Y. Times review of Brett Easton Ellis‘s just-published Imperial Bedrooms , Erica Wagner laments the numbing effect of reading books (and, she might have also said, watching movies and cable TV shows) that are saturated with flash and brutality. “The reader has to wonder what Ellis is trying to prove,” Wagner writes. “That people numbed by the poison of a society based solely on money, fame and beauty are capable of practically anything?

“If that’s not news to us it’s thanks, in large part, to Bret Easton Ellis. But what purpose can simple repetition serve?

“We, the modern audience for novels like this, have gotten over being shocked. There’s nothing left. From A Clockwork Orange to Antichrist and with American Psycho along the way, we’ve seen it all. We too have been poisoned, so that when we see pictures from Haiti or from Abu Ghraib, they appall us, perhaps, but not for long. They are part of the landscape: they are what we expect to see, and we must blunt ourselves to their power if we are to survive as feeling human beings.

“That’s not a call for a return to the past — for the veil of doubt cast over Tess Durbeyfield as she lies in a wood at Alec’s mercy. Nor for the stark moralism Dickens suggests with the death of Bill Sikes, even his poor dog’s brains dashed out in despair. But a skilled novelist, one who wants to examine the way we live and why, needs to move the conversation forward. The obligation is even greater if he’s returning to a world he’s depicted before.

“‘History repeats the old conceits, the glib replies, the same defeats,’ runs one of this novel’s epigraphs, a line from Elvis Costello. So it may, but fiction doesn’t have to: that’s the point. Let’s hope Ellis figures that out.”