Know how when you’re reading and you come to the part in a story where real people kill other real people? I mean the parts in real-life, nonfiction journalism where the reporter gets the killer to talk candidly about what he did and why he did it, what he was thinking about, how he felt—and those precious bits of info gleam and pulse on the page like some terrible treasure as you read each sentence over and over again, first just the end clause, because that was the most beautiful and strange, and then, working your way back, maybe the middle part of the sentence, because the crime was also in the sentence, the cry and confession and reason, and then eventually you read the beginning, until you’ve read it all through, retraced your steps, and then you’re ready to take the whole sentence in again, all at once, and right before you turn the page you think, No, I can’t do it, not yet. (Apprehension about turning a page mustn’t be confused with second thoughts about not knowing why you’re about to actually kill someone.) So you space out and stare, look back at the top of the left page, to a fragment you couldn’t figure out, and you read again. At some point you’re ready to turn the page and you do, but more of the day has gone by than you’d like to admit. You once thought of yourself as a fast reader, a bottomless page turner, but with this particular writer you’re freakishly slow, as if you were at a disadvantage, almost a dunce.
That’s what it’s like for me reading Dennis Cooper. Every damn page. A complex experience to say the least. I suppose a person could read him fast but I’m not sure how that would work; the blur is set on such a high frequency that white noise would flood the brain. Cooper’s new novel, My Loose Thread, is a high school story about emotional confusion, killing, and sex à la infamous Klebold, Harris, and Columbine. The action takes place primarily in dialogue, face-to-face, over the phone, via what’s overheard, hinted at, imagined, feared. Dialogue has always been where Cooper reigns supreme: dialogue so fine, subtle, cryptic, often mixed with inner utterances, to create a lucid, ultrafragmented worldview. There’s a contagious elemental quality to it, whereby you, the reader, feel as stoned and spacey and floaty as the characters inhabiting the narrative; you suddenly disassociate from your surroundings and familiar things reek of new meaning (or worse yet, nothing). All brought on by reading Dennis Cooper. This narcotic vibe is so strong, and in the prose so deep, that the effects are psychedelic, and also true. Hail the Coop.
Dennis Cooper’s My Loose Thread is just out from Canongate Books.