Paul has a crush on Sean, Sean wants to sleep with Lauren, Lauren was Paul's ex-girlfriend. In an affluent college town where students attend more parties than classes, and sexualities are more fluid than before, The Rules of Attraction presents a bizarrely dark and satirical take on the upper-middle-class college student culture.
Set in the fictional college town of Camden, New Hampshire, The Rules of Attraction is narrated in first-person by the characters. It mostly focuses on three: Sean, Paul, and Lauren. However, several other characters provide their own account of things every now and then. The novel begins and ends in mid-sentence, giving the impression that the reader is suddenly thrown into the world of these students with no introduction whatsoever.
In fact, one thing I noticed about this novel is that the plot isn't introduced slowly; instead, it immediately begins, leaving no time for the reader to catch up and get used to the setting.
I won't even attempt to provide a synopsis here: in short, The Rules of Attraction is in fact, a story about the rules of attraction that exist between spoiled students in a university town. So, what do you need to do in order to get some access to some drugs? What outfit do you need to wear in order to get some sex tonight after the party? This novel provides the answers.
As this novel is a dark comedy and a satire, it makes the reader think by presenting a societal problem in a very skewed and exaggerated fashion. The way I take it, this is Bret Easton Ellis' way of portraying the corruption of the youth. Having dealt with undergrads myself, I can see how the world painted in this novel can mirror real-life college students.
While in graduate school, I have come across and taught undergrads who just seem to have very different priorities than what one would usually expect. Instead of classes, undergrads are more interested in parties, drugs, fraternities, and sex. My undergraduate experience was relatively shielded from these elements, and so it is interesting for me to read about social norms and practices of a segment of society in which I am not a part of.
I may not have a lot of comments about the plot, but I have plenty of comments about the structure. The Rules of Attraction is written in the first-person narrative, but the narrator shifts around. This is noted by having the name of the narrator mentioned before every chapter. This style gives the reader access to the narrator's theory of mind: I constantly found myself going back and forth checking whether the narrative of the same event was true across characters.