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December 24, 2014

Charles Blackstone on THE RULES OF ATTRACTION

Posted by Rebecca M

Charles Blackstone, managing editor of Bookslut, is known for his experimental and avant-garde fiction. His most recent work, VINTAGE ATTRACTION, is the semi-autobiographical story of academia, celebrity and fine wine culture. Though Charles is now a respected figure in the literary world, he is not ashamed to admit that he was not much of a reader before the age of 15. It was at this time that he discovered Bret Easton Ellis' THE RULES OF ATTRACTION, a novel that gave Charles just the push he the guts to pursue his own "vintage attraction."

The book was THE RULES OF ATTRACTION, Bret Easton Ellis' second novel, published in 1987. I discovered it, or it discovered me, during the spring of 1992, when I was 15 years old. I'd never been much of a reader, but THE RULES OF ATTRACTION captured me. It was full of dorm-room ennui and parties and hangovers and incompletes for cutting classes and stoned professors getting students stoned and one guy gluing together rocks for a final project. And, of course, a love triangle. I wanted to be one of the characters. It was kind of like the group of kids who were a grade ahead of me that I became obsessed with at the end of that year --- the ones who were sort of my friends but not really.

That Christmas, Becca, the girl I wanted to go out with, wanted nothing to do with me. I kept thinking back to the night six weeks before when we met. I'd gone to see Trust with Vicky, a girl I'd kind of liked off and on, who'd liked me off and on, and with whom I'd started hanging out fairly regularly, along with a group of her friends, including Becca, a pretty blonde with a black leather jacket who lived on funky Harper Avenue. I ended up being the one to walk her home. She invited me inside the taupe Victorian in between the mint one and the tangerine one. We sat close to each other on a couch in a dark alcove off the living room, and when she put her head on my shoulder, I went for a kiss, but she turned away. She claimed it was because Vicky liked me, but I could sense it probably had more to do with me. There was a line from the book I kept thinking about in those days: No one ever likes the right person. Eventually I'd tell my new junior friends that I was giving up on Becca, but inside my head, I kept pursuing --- just like an Ellis character would have done. I was aware that I was letting a girl (who didn't even like me) and novel characters (who weren't even real people) run my life, but I was 15 years old; what do you want from me?

I was also vaguely aware that being a kind of writer-in-training came with the need for material. A broken heart, the Ellis characters had shown me, was fodder to fill pages. My words presented themselves to me as something of a weapon I could use to my advantage, romantically and otherwise. I began trying to win Becca over syntactically: Greeting cards I bought or stole; notes passed or poked through locker vents; insides of empty matchbooks; any surface upon which I could scribble something I hoped she might find meaningful enough to want to date me. I don't remember anything I wrote to her. All I can hope now is that it wasn't too cheesy. Regardless, nothing worked as far as Becca and I were concerned. Vicky had also given up on me, because she was pissed off that I started liking Becca. I eventually stopped trying to fall in love, and started the uphill battle to save my grades. I kept going to the Regenstein Library to try to get some homework done. But instead I looked up Ellis books on the green-screened computer and went to find them and read them (again) in the literature stacks on the fourth floor.

Then it was Christmas, and everybody was buying presents, and so it seemed fitting to give this girl who didn’t want anything from me a gift. I bought a used hardcover of THE RULES OF ATTRACTION at O'Gara's bookstore, and I filled the purple end paper beneath the front flap with another message --- which would be my last stream-of-consciousness to the blonde girl with the leather jacket from Harper Avenue.

I have no idea now what I wrote. I can only remember how I ended the inscription. It was with another favorite line from the Ellis novel: I guess it's not your fault you don't feel the same way I do. In January, she acknowledged receiving the gift when I saw her in the hall one day.

She never said anything about what I'd written inside.