A BORN WRITER
"More an outsider than a literary upstart, Cooper's reputation was forged over the course of his five-book cycle that began with Closer and ended with Period. He is a literary figure in the society that regards Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer as part of its cultural heritage. In the America of Okalahoma bombings, high school shooting sprees and Bin Laden's demolition job on the World Trade Centre, it is Cooper who faithfully represents the mainstream."
3am Chief Editor Andrew Stevens reviews Dennis Cooper's My Loose Thread
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The limitations of literary criticism are manifest and manifold. Any review can only, at best, act as a précis of the work in question, at worst, an invitation to purchase. That is not to denigrate the canon of literary criticism itself but merely to attest to the fact that the humble reviewer often fails to inform the reader beyond the publisher's blurb and a few random anecdotes thrown in for good measure. But enough about the Times Literary Supplement, Dennis Cooper's My Loose Thread will not be done justice by the review you, the reader, are about to read.
I invoke blurbs as in the case of Dennis Cooper they are indeed of salient measure. You spot the latest edition of My Loose Thread (kindly supplied to us by Canongate) on the table at Waterstones or Borders and in writing only just bigger than the main font on the dustjacket is a bog standard blurb by William Burroughs: "Dennis Cooper, God help him, is a born writer." As you pick it up and approach the counter, the marketing man has clearly served his purpose. However, we at 3am happen to know that The Priest Burroughs supplied that blurb as a token of appreciation.
Cooper's work is overpowering and his reputation as a literary figurehead for chronicling the depraved and the psychosexual is well earned. He may be the 'voice of the blank generation,' but I think I'm still at that age (27) when I find it hard to associate anyone the same age as my father (50) as being capable of shocking me through deeds of culture. It is hard to move beyond the comparisons with Brett Easton Ellis, that other high literary priest of shock literature, though any association with the likes of Poppy Z.Brite is unfair to say the least -- it does happen, but you may as well compare him to Anne Rice just because there are a few dead bodies in the book!
Like Easton Ellis and the false morality of 1980s yuppiedom facilitated and brokered by the Reagan era, Cooper invokes the legacy of Columbine High in the opening pages of My Loose Thread and uses it tellingly to underwrite the activities of protagonist Larry:
"Then we get to Gilman's house. His bedroom's painted black, and he has some chairs for his Nazi group meetings. I went to one, but couldn't make up my mind. There's a poster of Harris and Kliebald, the two Columbine guys. Gilman made it on Photoshop, and put the words 'Coming Soon' across the top so his parents would think they're a rock band. They're his heroes, and that's part of my problem. Of all the guys who shot other guys at their high schools back then, they're so boring."
As a leitmotif it works well and sets the tone for the rest of the novel. The complex series of relationships between Larry and his associates are borne out by Larry's central task -- to kill a fellow high school student for the fee of $500. The high school milieu works well as a backdrop for the book and I couldn't help but feel that Cooper has managed to capture the true spirit of anodyne Middle America. He captures the differentials between classes and, again, the presence of icons of corporate America (eg. Lexus cars) can only bring on further Easton Ellis parallels. Interestingly, the presence of symbols of the modern age (e-mail, MP3s) never detracts from the overall effect of the book -- it's like reading a piece of classic writing updated.
It moves quickly. It's intense. It's royally fucked-up. More an outsider than a literary upstart, Cooper's reputation was forged over the course of his five-book cycle that began with Closer and ended with Period. He is a literary figure in the society that regards Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer as part of its cultural heritage. In an America of Oaklahoma bombings, high school shooting sprees and Bin Laden's demolition job on the World Trade Centre, it is Cooper who faithfully represents the mainstream. My Loose Thread will merely consolidate his reputation and rank as an achievement in its own right. Teenage mass murderers, they're so boring.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Andrew Stevens is a Chief Editor for 3am Magazine and lives in London, England.