The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper

 

Harper Perennial calls The Marbled Swarm, Dennis Cooper’s “most haunting work to date,” and it is impossible to disagree. Although this latest from Cooper is more psychological and subtle, in many aspects, than most of his other works, it is perhaps because of those reasons that it is even more effective. The book is disturbing, as is typical from Cooper. The narrator, a deeply troubled young man with fantasies of incest on the brain, is consumed by homicidal and cannibalistic tendencies. The layers of his mind are just as twisted, concealed, and misleading as the secret passageways and hidden rooms that encompass his father’s voyeuristic mansion. The book, at its core, is a mystery story, which parallels the physical reality with the narrator’s subconscious, and what the reader finds in both places is darkly troubling.   

A narrator who refuses to identify as gay, but whose sexual perversions include raping and killing boys (particularly of the “Emo” type), then eating them; a father who spies on his sons, and who slowly and subtly persuades them to become sexually infatuated with each other; a boy who lies about being raped by his father to his brother, and by his brother to his father, with the hope that one of them will rape him; men who kidnap boys, alter them through plastic and bone surgery so they will look like their fantasy type, then sell them for sexual favors to men with twisted desires. These are just some of the characters in The Marbled Swarm. Individually, each is sick, twisted, and alarming in his own right; together, they create a world of psychological distrubia. The narrator and main character is the most interesting of the bunch, perhaps because the reader witnesses some of his secrets unfold chapter-by-chapter. His younger brother and father are also fascinating, in a “this car crash makes me want to vomit but I can’t turn my head” kind of way. Ultimately, the group serves to progress the story’s purpose, which is a commentary on language and communication, as well as Cooper’s modus operandi – exposing the terrible side of humanity and the evil side of desire. 

Cooper’s writing style is nearly unmatched; he is a type of writer that has been unknown in American Literature since William Burroughs. Although his themes are twisted and hard to stomach for most, his ability as a writer are laudable to say the least. His mastery of language, his ability to advance a plot seamlessly, and the sickeningly playful way he messes with his readers minds are impossible to overlook, despite how unsavory the subject matter. In The Marbled Swarm, Cooper has accomplished all that his previous works attempted, which is saying much, because his previous works were groundbreaking in their own right. In retrospect, though, it is clear to see that Cooper has been developing over time, getting better and better; and this latest, his masterpiece, is proof of how hard he has been working to perfect his craft. 

After admiring Cooper’s work for nearly a decade, I can say that, though I have loved and been fascinated by almost every book, poem, and essay the man has ever written, this is the book all previous works were helping to develop. It is, by far, Cooper’s most complex piece to date, and also his finest in craft, in theory, and in delivery. The fluid prose, disturbing subject matter, and psychological warfare (within the story and between narrator and reader) make this book a demonstrable work of genius. Had this been just a story about a disturbed young man who had sexual attractions for his brother and father, and who liked to eat human flesh, the book would have been sick, sad, and confusing; however, though that is technically what happens in the book, it is not what the book is about. This is a story about desire and depression; it is a story about cravings and theatrics;  it is a story about the pleasure of playing “the witness” in horrifying situations and, most importantly, it is a story about story-telling. 

Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0

 

 

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>Review: God Jr. by Dennis Cooper

>For the first time, since years ago, when I first picked up a Dennis Cooper novel (one of the early George Miles cycle books) I was actually surprised by the subject matter of a Cooper work. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy or appreciate Dennis Cooper’s work; in fact, I’m an avid fan – having now read all but one of his novels. Still, Cooper tends to be predictable in subject matter, theme, and plot. This time, however, Cooper has done something completely new. The plot is innovative, creative, and haunting. The story itself is still Cooper-esque, disturbing and a bit sick, and it is still an examination of death. Except, this time, rather than death as a scientific experiment – in body function, sensory reaction, sexuality, etc., Cooper is explaining death through grief and love – the loss of a child and how his already troubled father tries to cope. Truly brilliant – I read it in one sitting, in a matter of 90 minutes.

>Review: Period by Dennis Cooper

>Period is the last of the George Miles cycle and, personally, I believe it is his best. Of all Dennis Cooper’s work, this is probably my favorite, or a very close second to “God, Jr.” The plot-line is sometimes hard to follow, as it moves back and forth between dimensions of reality and names are interchangeable (the story is narrated through the eyes of a chrystal meth addict, so what else would we expect?) but that makes the brilliance of what Cooper accomplishes even more beautiful. If you followed the George Miles novels from the beginning, you will not be disapponited with this concluding chapter. Cooper’s honesty is not just gut-wrenching (or gut-turning, depending on your exposure and sensitivity to Cooper’s style) but also heart-moving. The author’s personal pain and conflict over his relationship/feelings for “George” – as well as the loss of that friend are, for the first time, clearly expressed. The prose is inventive and powerful, the characters are believable and sad. All-in-all, Period is a stellar acheivement by a master writer of psychologically deviant, subersive-transgressive literature.

Reviews: Card, Cooper, and Barth

Shadow of the Hegemon by Orson Scott Card

This edition of the novel is littered with surface errors; however, the story itself is quite interesting. While it can’t stand on its own, as Ender’s Shadow or Ender’s Game certainly can, it is an intriguing “next step” in the Bean series, and it definitely leaves me wanting to continue on to the next book: Shadow Puppets. Orson Scott Card is a genius at merging creative imaginings of the future with historical and contemporary political and military fact. Seems almost effortless.

Guide by Dennis Cooper

Beautiful, bold, and brilliant. A lot of Cooper’s unique and trademark style has been carried over into Guide but with some innovation. For instance, Guide is much more personal, it seems. This episode of the George Miles series is, in my opinion, the best because it brings together the three previous novels and begins to explain who George Miles was to Dennis, why he is so important – how he changed Dennis forever. The novel somehow manages to be touching, heart-breaking, and disgusting all at once. Superb and unexpected.

Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth

Brilliant! Absolutely unpredictable. Sad, too – the novel speaks of the end of itself, that is, the novel. Written in an age where novelists truly feared new media (cinema, theater, etc.). Barth’s literary and composition skills are beyond compare. Highly recommended for any lover/scholar of literature and/or creative writing.

Review: Brief Reviews of Earlier Reads

The Fires of Merlin (The Lost Years of Merlin #3) by T.A. Barron

This has been the most disappointing book in the Merlin series, so far. It seemed to lack substance and flair. There are also many repeating themes and events – but not in a subtle way. It’s more like the author has chosen a few stock characters and re-uses them over and over. The story is still interesting and fun, I just hope the final two books will be better.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Truly remarkable. To imagine a world in which law is outlaw and in which priests are hunted down and killed, to the very last one… terribly troubling.

The Seven Songs of Merlin (The Lost Years of Merlin #2) by T.A. Barron

Even better than the first – and makes me truly look forward to the third! The many, many similarities to the Lord of the Rings and to the Harry Potter series are a bit unnerving, though. Dissertation topic? Hmmm.

The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron

This first book in the series of Young Merlin leaves me wanting more – which is why I’m already 100 pages into the second book at the time I’m writing this review for the first! Though classified as “independent reader” books – meaning, for ages 10-14 or so, the book is also mature in nature and prose. Barron is an excellent story-teller and, while it lacks the maturity and complexity of the later books in the Harry Potter series, this first book is quite comparable to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Definitely worth the read – fast paced, fun, interesting, exciting. I’m convinced.

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

Meh. I feel like this would make a pretty excellent movie, but the book (short as it was) dragged on and on. There was so much explanation of the fear, without any actual description of it… I suppose I’m a product of the “show, don’t tell” school of writing, because all Lovecraft did was tell, tell, tell. Even the descriptions -of apparently monstrous and terrifying alien beasts- were mundane and boring. Hard to do. I understand Lovecraft is supposed to be the godfather of terror but after this, my first experience, with his writing, I’m left disappointed. I doubt I’ll pick up another.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

We all know the story; we’ve all seen the movie. What we haven’t done, though, is read the book! And we should. The novella is quaint and brilliant and didactic and rough and everything purely and uniquely Dickensian. My only complaint is that this wasn’t one of Dickens’ longer works – it could have easily been a great novel. But it is still a beautiful little novella. Loved it. And what better time to read it than late December? “Merry Christmas, everyone!”

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Truly wonderful companion to the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The tales in themselves are clever but the addition of the footnotes by J.K.R. herself and by Hermione Granger as translator, compound with the explanatory commentary by Dumbledore after each story, makes this read like a Norton Critical Edition of any classical literary work. Fantastic. The final tale, “The Three Brothers,” is the one which is directly referenced in the final Harry Potter Book (The Deathly Hallows). Reading that last tale, as well as the whole book, really made me want to dive back into the original series. Also, many magical creatures, historical figures, potions, etc. are referenced in the novel, with a footnote to find more information in Rowling’s other two supplementary books, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages. The attention to detail remains fantastic and the series as a whole is beyond superb and is truly inspiring.

The Sluts by Dennis Cooper

Simultaneously the best and worst of Cooper’s novels. The worst because the story-line was a bit trite and the “internet-style” (is there a term for this yet? Web-lit? Blog-book?) is, at this point, outplayed and cliche. Though, to be fair, the book is probably one of the first to use the format, I’m just slow in picking it up. It’s also probably one of his best because the characters, though they all really turn out to be, well.. I don’t want to give anything away. Anyway, probably the most developed characters in any of his novels. The book took me months to read, though I normally fly through his books in a day. I think this is because I had a long-time relationship with a paranoid schizophrenic sociopath, and this book brought back incredibly vivid and unwelcome memories, so I tended to only read a few pages at a time. In any event, I do prefer the George Miles Cycle but Cooper still continues to prove that he’s a freak genius.

The Confusions of Young Torless by Robert Musil

An interestingly philosophical take on the “darker” side of boarding school life. While only one of the characters in the novel (the abused boy) was remotely believable, the idea has merit. Musil’s prose is quite beautiful and I believe he almost accomplished what he meant to – raising questions about youth and sexuality and morality and consciousness. Whether any of the ideas are sound or answered, well, that’s another debate altogether. Intriguing read, though.

Review: Briefer Reviews of Past Reads

Closer by Dennis Cooper

I always promise myself that Dennis Cooper will not be able to shock me again; yet, he somehow manages to do so. For most readers, the majority of this book -start to finish- will be quite shocking, especially to those unfamiliar with Cooper’s work. I was appropriately mortified along the way, but it wasn’t until near the end, in the last chapter, when I was genuinely surprised and disgusted. The story is about a boy, George, who bounces from lover to lover, being used to fulfill others’ needs. Even the “love” that he finds in the end is getting his rocks off on the side, and this, beyond any scatological or blood play, is what disgusted me most.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Very interesting. My first journey into the world of Kafka. He takes the metaphor and turns it into reality. Gregor, described as “verminlike” actually becomes a vermin, something similar to a cockroach. I’m not sure, however, what the point is supposed to be, and like many critics, I am left with more questions than answers. Why does Kafka hate Gregor so much in the first place? Granted, he is just a traveling salesmen – but he is working for a slimy manager in order to pay back his parents’ debts, and he plans on sending his sister to a music school. I found little so “cockroach-esque” or unappealing about Gregor – but he is forced into this vermin body and his family turns away from him. I’m not sure. I suppose I’ll have to read more about Kafka’s intentions and theorists’ interpretations before I settle on one feeling about this novel, if that’s even possible at all. It was good, though. Philosophically interesting – I just wonder why Kafka inserted such an average, generally decent and well-meaning guy to play the role of the vermin. Seems the manager would be more suited for that role.

Maurice by E.M. Forster

This is the first Forster novel I’ve read, but it certainly will not be the last.  Maurice is a painfully real tale about a man torn and despairing over his sexuality. Perhaps only a gay man can relate completely to this novel. Perhaps only a gay man who has attempted to deny his sexuality and “reform,” to become “normal,” can fully understand what Forster has attempted (with great success) in this novel. And, perhaps, only a gay man who has struggled painfully with his own desires, battled for acceptance, and finally found peace with himself and a lover to call his own can absolutely appreciate this beautiful story.

I believe, though, that Forster has written a touching love story, which will be accessible to anyone with an open mind and a caring, seasoned heart. The story of Maurice and Clive has been lived, in one form or another, by every one of us. The victory of Maurice and Alec is almost shout-out-loud joyous.

I have much more to say about this novel, but I suppose the only real suggestion I can make is this: read it.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour, An Introduction by J.D. Salinger

Broke my heart. Salinger stuns me. I wish more than anything that I could find him and spend a day just chatting with him. No interviews. No prying. Just talking about the weather.

Raise High and Seymour my not be my favorite “stories,” but I think these two installments of the Glass family literary legend are wholly necessary, especially Seymour. There is something incredibly moving and almost intolerably painful about Seymour’s story and about Buddy’s inability to concretely express the unique love that these two brothers share.

Salinger just seeps right into my bone marrow, and I can’t ever seem to kick the habit.

The Young Merlin Trilogy (Passager, Hobby, and Merlin) by Jane Yolen

Very interesting re-working of the tale of Merlin’s boyhood. The stories are interesting, exciting, and enjoyable – but they’re so short and fast-paced, it really leaves me craving more. This is good and bad. Good, because the stories obviously have something attractive and engaging about them. Bad, because there’s not enough there to leave me feeling satisfied. I want more! (I will probably end up researching the stories of Merlin for months to come, thanks to this series).

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt

I fear the title, “Possession: A Romance,” might attract a broad audience, one which will likely be unable to process all that goes on in this incredibly complex novel. No doubt, Byatt has created a masterpiece with this work. She weaves creative poetry, prose, essay, and literary scholarship with near flawless precision. Yet, and intentionally so, the novel will successfully serve only a small group of readers – those who are not just literature lovers, but readers with a substantial working understanding of literary theory and criticism. The pace is slow, and the references (both real and imaginary) to literary personages and works are difficult to wade through for a typical reader. As a literature scholar, however, I can honestly say that this is a work of epic proportion. Byatt leaves me stunned and envious.

Harold’s End by J.T. Leroy

Lot’s of editing/surface error problems which can be a bit distracting but, overall, the story is good. I don’t personally find it as disturbing as many reviewers seem to – not as much as, say, Sarah. (For really disturbing and experimental gay fiction, look up Dennis Cooper). However, in spite of myself, Harold’s End moved me quite a bit. More so after I sat down to think about the story and what it meant. A boy hustler, trying to make it on his own, meets one seemingly decent man who weans him from drugs and never forces him into anything. Even gives him a pet, Harold, to love and care for – then suddenly and without warning, he throws the boy back out into the streets. Really quite beautiful.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien has created an incredible universe, with which all future fantasy writers are doomed to compete. Though the dense description and Bible-like lineage lists can get dreary and overwhelming, the overall story, especially its imagery and themes, more than make up for it.

Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia M. Axline

Touching and fascinating story about a young boy whose behaviour is quite unusual. He appears to be intelligent, but he never communicates with anyone – his frustrated parents have given up hope on him but his teachers and one psychologist dare to hope for more. And their hopes possibly save this incredible boy’s life. The editing/proofreading of this printing isn’t exactly up to par, but the story (a true one) is definitely worth reading through the textual errors. Really enjoyed it.

My Loose Thread by Dennis Cooper

One of Dennis Cooper’s most incredible works. Two gay brothers (one who accepts what he is, the other denies it) both fall in love with the same boy – a depressed teenager with no real capacity for love. The boys’ rejection sends them into the arms of one another, fulfilling the sexual/physical desires they imagine having with their disturbed friend. The teen kills himself, which sends the brothers into confusion and insanity. Unbelievably sad, scary, and painful. Cooper is brutally honest in his depiction of gay teenage life, desire, and rejection – and all the psychological turmoil that

Reviews: The Earlies, Part 11

Try by Dennis Cooper

Pleasureably shocking.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

I found this book incredibly self-centered and over-rated. Hate mail, come and get me.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Very good, disturbing book about a possible post-apocolyptic future. Unique style – the blunt simpleness of it matches perfectly with the world about which McCarthy writes.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

Wonderful graphic novel. Probably the only graphic novel I’ll ever read all the way through – and possibly again.

Seventh Son (Tales of Alvin Maker, Book 1) by Orson Scott Card

Such a great sci-fi/fantasy book. Takes place in early-American history. A young boy and ‘seventh son’ is born with special powers. Beginning of the ‘Alvin Maker’ series. Very entertaining.

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Insanely disgusting. Shocking for the sake of shock.. but maybe that’s why it’s worth reading.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Great!

The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup

Interesting plot but not very well affected. Probably better for younger readers.