Harper Perrenial has deemed this the "Summer of the Short Story" and sent me a copy of Dennis Cooper's newest collection, Ugly Man, last week. The "Summer of the Short Story," after all, has an exciting new PSA that I couldn't resist.
The pitch they sent should have tipped me off if the PSA didn't.
Each part of this engrossing collection is more shocking than the next, encompassing an encyclopedia of carnal and violent acts all between two covers... Please just be forewarned, this material is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach (and in my opinion, that makes it all the better!).
We gets tons of pitches every day though, and by the time the book arrived, I'd forgotten what it was about - other than short stories. After reading it, I can definitively say that Dennis Cooper is an Ugly Man. In fact, he's a twisted, sadistic bastard that gives gay men everywhere a black eye simply by publishing these perverted, mostly ephebophilic fantasies.
Cooper is also a brilliant writer. His use of different writing styles and voices combined with the macabre subject matter to meld into a really disturbing, but well written collection of short stories.
I'm not talking Steven King-type goodie-two-shoes stories. Cooper even leaves my favorite creepy and twisted author, Clive Barker, in the dust when it comes to outright sick shit and depraved stories.
The first story in the novel, "Jerk," jumps right into the fray with a strong punch to the gut. The plot revolves around a puppet show that acts out a drama about an adult and two teenagers that sexually tortures, mutilates and murders other local (hot) suicidal teenagers. The teens kill the adult after one graphically described torture session and the puppet master is revealed to be one of the teens from the story. The one who develops something slightly related to a conscience. Or a good case of jealousy, I'm not sure which. You leave the story slightly confused and off-kilter and it doesn't slow down for a moment.
In "The Guro Artists," the story revolves around a dead Japanese teen tied spreadeagled on a wooden frame and dressed and painted to resemble an anime superhero.
Now he is Flash. That's his new name. Flash is a superhero. His powers are great but he was unprepared for my lust. He didn't expect to be killed for that. He thinks Flash will survive like always. He's smug. He's secretly intrigued. But just before a bolt of lightning struck his head and turned him into Flash, the youngest superhero, he was a screaming, crying, vomiting sixteen-year-old boy whom I raped for three days straight, stopping only to nap and make some phone calls and eat. And before that, he was one of the millions of sixteen-year-old soccer-playing, iPod-wearing, charismatic Japanese American teenagers with an annoying donkey laugh, a cutely unkempt haircut, and an ass too exquisite to waste its whole life squeezing out shits.
Most disturbingly, childhood sexual abuse is a frequent topic for Cooper - whether it's thrown in as an added-on detail or thrust forward as the main plot element. One story, "Santa Clause vs Johnny Crawford," is one paragraph long but leaves you gasping for it's ugly simplicity. As a child abuse survivor, I was repelled by the subject matter, compelled by the terse writing and simply stunned at how much I related to that kid in those handful of sentences.
In fact, while the book is full of stories with main themes that are simply odd or disturbing, the ephebophilia and hebephilia really pushed the book into the "I wouldn't have read this if it weren't for a review" category. I'd have closed it after the first few stories and called it a day. I really hope the myopic focus on fucking mid-to-late teenagers isn't a usual element to his stories because I'd love to enjoy more of his deranged imagination.
The book cover contains plenty of laudatory compliments for Cooper like "A disquieting genius" from Vanity Fair and "The most dangerous writer in America" by Village Voice. The press release also offers up William Burroughs calling him "A born writer." I find myself agreeing with these quips. While Cooper is obviously an imaginative and incredibly descriptive writer, "disquieting" is the least you can say.
Maybe I'll show up on the next book with "a twisted, sadistic bastard" as my compliment. That would be cool because I'd read more of his work - and enjoy the discomfort he gives the reader with his unusual storylines.