The publishing world expressed shock at Simon & Schuster's last-minute cancellation of Bret Easton Ellis' controversial novel "American Psycho," the gruesomely detailed story of a Wall Street mutilator of women that was scheduled for January publication.

While editors at other houses pondered acquiring the jettisoned third novel by the 26-year-old author of "Less Than Zero," one of the most influential novels of the 1980s, industry experts argued about issues of censorship versus taste and gossiped about how much advance media pieces on the book contributed to its withdrawal.Some editors who read the book in manuscript have come to the author's defense.

"I think there's brilliance in it," said Morgan Entrekin, a close friend of Ellis' who acquired "Less Than Zero" for Simon & Schuster.

"Look," he added, "there's no question this is a very shocking and disturbing book. I think, though, that there's a seriousness of intent to it. It is not done for prurient or sensational reasons."

Negative notices about the book started this fall, when the New York Post reported that the brokerage house Shearson Lehman Hutton and the rock group Genesis opposed use of their trade names in the book, which contains grotesque descriptions of murdered female victims that Spy Magazine called "far more horrible than anything in any chainsaw movie."

Time magazine critic R.Z. Sheppard followed with an Oct. 29 article that practically invited Simon & Schuster to cancel the book. In what amounted to an unusual advance review, Sheppard called the manuscript "childish," "graphic babble" and "zombie prose." An artist assigned to design the cover refused to do it, and many female Simon & Schuster employees protested in-house against publication of what they considered a misogynist book.

Ellis said he is "completely shocked" by the cancellation and feels advance articles about the book misrepresented it.