On some level, this feels like an '80s LA Catcher in the Rye, albeit with richer and older kids, and drugs and prostitution. I feel like this may have been Ellis' intent, I also think that the acclaim that greeted it upon its release likely was due, in part to that comparison, however misguided.
Holden is a compelling character because so many of us can relate to him, if not his situation (I never went to boarding school). Clay is not as relatable - few of us are this rich and few of us are this world weary at 18. But the latter is part of the comment - this is, apparently, what happens when too rich people neglect their children.
The book is written almost as if it was noir or detective fiction, despite not much of a plot and a not particularly mysterious mystery. But this is to its credit and creates more tension than there otherwise would be. In fact, the despite Clay's behaviour and thoughts (which are, at times, hard to empathize with), the style makes you keep turning the page, even though none of these people are likable.
On the whole, I think, it works. Whether or not its exaggerated and whether or not mid '80s LA was an easy target. But if I am going to go for novels about disaffection, I'll take Catcher in the Rye (for teenagers) or The Moviegoer (for rich adults) any day.