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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The Sluts by Dennis Cooper 
12th-Jul-2006 11:59 pm
The month's Zooba pick.

Cooper, Dennis. The Sluts. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005.
Summary: 2005 Lambda Literary Award winner. A story of mingled fact and fiction of rent boy Brad and his pimp/boyfriend Brian reaches legendary proportions within an online community of gay men into extreme sex. After a stint in jail, Brad and Brian start selling portions of Brad's death...except that "Brad" isn't really Brad at all but a young man named Thad who has a death wish.
Comments: Written entirely in faux reviews, IMs, online forum postings, emails, and faxes, this novel is at once a deliciously nuanced and gripping experiment in unreliable narration and a surprisingly easy read (if you're the sort of person who is used to the lingo of online communication). Though thematically it's Cooper's usual (gay) sex, drugs, and death, I was impressed by how carefully controlled and manipulative he made the structure without compromising the reader accessibility that his George Miles Cycle often lacked. At first, I was concerned that by the end you still wouldn't know what the hell is going on exactly and who to believe since in the beginning you get dropped in head first and the narrative isn't quite so coherent as in later stages, but happily it all ends on a relatively conclusive note--read: It was all one sicko fantasy. Of course, the larger implication, that there are young men out there whose only sense of worth is as other mens' sex objects, is awfully depressing...and an offshoot of a larger cultural impulse toward commodification, even of peoples' real lives.
Notes: hardcover, exclusive BCE; trade PBO edition available
Rating: 5.5/10 - A most impressive novel that's more than worth the time it takes...but if you don't know what you're in for, don't do it.
13th-Jul-2006 04:25 pm (UTC)
I have this book (an X-mas gift) but have not yet read it. Although I own at least three of Cooper's novels (FRISK, CLOSER, THE SLUTS...maybe others), I always shy away from them because I think his subject matter won't really grab me. Too harsh. I doubt I'd be disturbed or anything, just not terribly emotionally engaged. And I'm always a bit suspicious of exploitative crap that is being packaged as "social commentary."

If you look at his blog, he is constantly posting gay porno that has been sent to him, ostensibly by the participants, who are most frequently (extremely) young men from the former Soviet bloc countries. I find this to be vaguely offensive in the exact same way as if I was checking out a middle aged man's blog who constantly posted pornographic images that were sent to him by poverty stricken young women in Rumania (or wherever). I don't really have too many double standards; I see it as exactly the same thing. Anyhow, his current lover (a much younger man) is someone he met under a similar set of circumstances. I guess what I'm trying to say, in a roundabout way, is that I believe (without having read it, mind you) that THE SLUTS is very much a comment on his own tastes in and attitudes about sex - not merely society's at large. Many readers have speculated that it reads like sort of a revenge fantasy against JT Leroy, who sold Cooper a phony bill of goods about his past as an abused child (which, I've long suspected, was a big turn on to lecherous old Cooper). Long and short, I think Cooper is one of those pathetic folks who makes the world an "awfully depressing" place.
13th-Jul-2006 04:39 pm (UTC)
*nods* Yeah, all of his novels strike me as thinly-veiled confessionals about his own fetishes--which are too extreme to live in real life, so he works it all out, as it were, in literary fantasy. Still, from a purely technical standpoint, he IS an excellent writer and thus is worth the time for me in that respect, theme (or lack thereof) aside.

Cooper isn't alone in the whole sex/the body commodified theme in literature, though, and it isn't confined to gay fiction, either. Though I find I'm generally apathetic by the "extreme" descriptions of sex and violence, what just annoys me when the character is male absolutely enrages me when the character is female--which then is connected to the whole so-called "post-feminist" movement.
13th-Jul-2006 06:03 pm (UTC)
Re: your last paragraph. On an emotional level I totally agree. I cannot read erotica that is about female submission or victimisation or what-have-you. Examples of books that I was unable to finish - TOPPING FROM BELOW by Laura Reese, the SLEEPING BEAUTY books by AN Roquelaire (aka Anne Rice) and STORY OF O by Pauline Reage. While, by the same token, I am easily able to read (and often enjoy) books where male characters are used or exploited without any such feelings of revulsion.

However, I am speaking on a purely emotional level here. Intellectually, I can divorce myself from my own personal feelings enough to see that Dennis Cooper is using his position of fame, visibility, power and wealth to exploit these poor young men who send him filthy, compromising photos (most likely) in hopes that he will help them out in some way. While these kids are undoubtedly mercenary in their aims, it still seems wrong to me somehow that he should post the photos rather than simply ignoring them. I see the inequity between Cooper's social status and that of these young men as not terribly dissimilar to the societal inequities between men and women.
13th-Jul-2006 07:47 pm (UTC)
Well, Cooper's "fantastic" fiction is one thing, his actions another thing entirely. If we're talking about real life here, indulge me the following rant: The whole straight-boy-does-gay-porn-for-$$$ thing. I HATEHATEHATE it! From a philosophical standpoint, so-called "heteroflexibility" is degrading to people who actually have genuine homosexual feelings because it is by definition performative. From a practical standpoint, these are kids being reinvented as objects, and the meta-message here is that the most valuable thing they have is their body and physical attractiveness to other (richer) men.
13th-Jul-2006 07:56 pm (UTC)
"Heteroflexiblity." Funny. But again, I agree.

Sorry if I seemed to get off on a tangent about Coop's personal life as opposed to focusing on his writing (which I've admitted having not yet sampled), but I find that I can never really get past my personal opinion about an artist (should I happen to know anything at all about them personally) when I'm looking at their work. Once I have personal information about an artist, it totally colours my perception of their work. That's probably one reason the ubiquity of internet blogging is probably a bad thing...for art at any rate.

I know I've said this time and again, but I agree with the painter Balthus's sentiment when he said, "I want to be an artist about whom nothing is known."
13th-Jul-2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
"Heteroflexiblity." Funny. But again, I agree.

Not a term that I made up, alas.

I find that I can never really get past my personal opinion about an artist (should I happen to know anything at all about them personally) when I'm looking at their work.

*nods* I like knowing about the authors as well...though I don't, to be perfectly honest, like reading the blogs or such equivalent of those whose work I admire UNLESS I think they are genuinely brilliant in all arenas. For most mediocre writers, a good dive into their life just diminishes their work. Writers whose blogs I read I tend to group more into a category of "public intellectual."

Although, if it's any consolation, Cooper's fictional descriptions of characters who are into snuff and extreme sex in no way, shape, or form vindicate them. There's definitely a wide streak of self-repulsion there, as well.
14th-Jul-2006 02:33 am (UTC)
I've just added you to my flist... I found you doing a random search on "fulbright" and love your book reviews.... just wanted to say hi!
14th-Jul-2006 04:03 am (UTC)
Welcome! It's a pleasure to have you. ^_^
1st-Aug-2006 04:31 am (UTC)
Review archived.
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