|Less Than Zero novel cover.|
First of all, the fact that the book was published by Ellis in 1985 meant he was only 21 when it came out (his debut novel) which gives the impression that as a member of the younger generation he was more honest and trustworthy when it came to giving an accurate description of American youth during the 1980's, as it had come from a 'reliable' and 'first hand source'. The youth of the day are portrayed by describing the moral and psychological aspects of a generation lost in drugs and sex. The youth (all main characters) are portrayed as lethargic, narcissistic and spoiled, growing up in the Reagan administration.
Drugs are a consistent topic during the novel, taken by Clay, Trent, Julian and almost everybody else that is described in the book. Drugs associated with the 'Yuppie' era, ensuring concentration levels are at their peak (cocaine) and parties are as enjoyable (and out of control) as they can be (marijuana, alcohol, heroin, qualudes, benzodiazapenes. These drugs are readily sniffed, smoked, imbibed, injected, and swallowed by the characters in the novel, showing the ease in which these narcotics could be obtained and how popular they were during this period. The use of heroin and blood tainted needles also dramatically increased the spread of HIV during the 1980's, with the novel showcasing just how easy this disease could have been spread between the younger generation. The spread of HIV can also be seen with the frequency of homosexual sex performed by several of the characters in the book, as a way to either earn money, or as a currency for drugs and/or excitement. This 'hedonistic' (as expressed through excessive drug taking and promiscuity) way of living, takes it's toll on the body, which in turn leads to higher chances of catching this deadly disease.
The descriptions of Clay's psychiatrist show the the fact that Clay is attempting to develop his mind into that of an adult, but is obviously not working, it shows an immaturity, that although noticeable, cannot be rectified.
Throughout the novel, 'generation X' (youths) continue to experience thrills in darker and darker ways, often more dangerous. This is shown through excessive drug use and sexual encounters, both heterosexual and homosexual, with references to rape, and underage sex too. An interesting element described about the 1980's in reference to youth was the introduction of the characters watching music videos on MTV and playing early video games, which begins to show the gradual immersion in technology that would develop into the main stereotype for youths for the next 20+ years.