Frisk

Friskbook by Dennis Cooper

annotation by Andrew Killmeier

This book is only 128 pages. I made it through 104. I’m not particularly prudish, nor homophobic. In fact I’m a pretty jaded reader, but this book was too much for me. My initial reaction is to think that Cooper is simply trying to shock the reader with repetetive (sometimes redundant) accounts of sexual sadism and murder. If I had seen a hint of a real plot or the potential for some literary payoff, perhaps I would have finished the last 24 pages and read on through the rape and evisceration of the ten year-old Dutch boy, but alas, not only was I disgusted at that point, but also bored.

The experimental structure of the book is interesting at first. It is divided into different sections — Wild, Tense, Torn, Spaced, Numb, Wilder, [Infinity sign] — in which a narrator, who is also named Dennis and is a writer (gee, I get it), explores his sexual history. His early realization of his homosexuality becomes entangled with a penchant for sadism. As he grows up and experiments with various lovers, he slowly gives into his darker urges, etc. One section of the book features a story the narrator claims to have written as part of a previous novel. What happens in the story? A young man/boy is lured into another man’s house where he is raped and murdered. This scene unfolds repeatedly in the book. In a sense the book is really more of a cubist painting or some kind of collage. Cooper explores the same imagery over and over again with slightly varying circumstances. The effect on the reader is like being stuck in the long, gory, wet dream of a psychopath.

The narration is confusing at first because, though there is one central narrator, he has godlike omnipotence. The Dennis character refers to himself as “I,” but goes on to explain what other characters are thinking even when he himself is out of the scene completely. Cooper blends close third person and first person perspectives. This was a new experience to me as a reader. It took some getting used to. I can’t figure the exact benefit of this style. I suppose it illustrates that though the story is told by Dennis (and we want to think it is Cooper or that some of these experiences at least belong to him so we can grant him some kind of authorial credit) the third person omnipotence reminds us it is fiction and thusly only a fantasy. He is exploring his most unfettered desires in the safe realm of fiction; yet he teases us into thinking/knowing he really fantasizes about these things by tagging his own name, by writing himself into the story. This structure is bold, imaginative, unique (to me), if at times annoying.

I can only commend Cooper on the brevity of the novel, though it was still too long for me. I just don’t know how many readers (gay or straight) can read through a dozen scenes of excrement eating. I figure five scenes are enough. Maybe six. I don’t see any real depth to this book. It explores one theme (sadomasochism, sex-death, desire-murder) relentlessly. Every scene is essentially a rerun, only with ever-increasing visceral pyrotechnics to bloat the effect. I find it sensationalist. It’s clear Cooper has some literary talent, but his motives remind me of the black-clad, too-serious painters and photographers I was stuck with in art school — “Look at me! I’m dark and fucked up!” If Cooper set out to shock me, he only half succeeded. The imagery was gruesome and gratuitous, yet repetitive. I was mostly shocked at myself for having not put the book down sooner.

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