DENNIS COOPER, PROBABLY
FINDING THE POSTMODERN ANNABEL LEE FOR A TIGER-BEAT BECKETT
“Literature is preferable to experience, since it is for the most part the closest one can get to nothing.”
—Laura Riding, Anarchism Is Not Enough
It’s an infantile and homophobic belief that the obsessions fuelling the quintessential Dennis Cooper novel—pedophilia, violent murder (and mutilation, dismemberment, etc.), kiddie porn, sexual abuse, unrepentant drug use—do not constitute serious literature. Cooper himself precisely counters such sentiment in “Container”: “I shove the knot of my feelings as deep as they’ll go into as compact and smoothed-out a prose style as I can build out of what I know. But they don’t belong here, any more than a man’s fist belongs in a boy’s ass.”
This month, however, Grove/Atlantic publishes Cooper’s eighth novel, God Jr., presumably the kind of book that Cooper’s myopic critical enemies have beseeched him to write since day one. God Jr. is the first of his books to be set in a world populated by adults. It’s the first to be virtually devoid of sex and violence. It’s the first whose primary character is heterosexual. And it’s the first that traffics in the book club, Booker-friendly subject matter of a father’s grief over the death of his son. Time will tell whether or not these characteristics will appease the aforementioned critics who have demanded that Cooper grow up. It also remains to be seen if such a dramatic sea change will alienate the legions of admirers who have devoured his visionary, elaborate, intensely personal tales of teenaged lust. I suspect that the answer will be “no” to both questions. God Jr. is one of the most enigmatic, troubling, and strange books of the year. It’s also beautiful and profound and deeply serious. In short: typical Cooper.
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