Frisk - Dennis Cooper

Cerisaye's Review

This book resembles Poppy Z Briteís Exquisite Corpse: sickeningly graphic violence combined with explicit sex, involving sadomasochism and murder.† Though its spare prose doesnít seduce so easily as Briteís lush style.† The story of a man who fantasises about taking boys to pieces to discover ultimate truth, it is unsettling reading, not a book to pick up on a whim.† You need a strong stomach and high tolerance threshold.† Not to mention willingness to subject yourself to a reading experience that leaves nightmarish images burned into your brain. If you can, stick with it because thereís a purpose revealed before the end.

Itís short, 128 pages.† But I struggled.† Iím fine with hardcore sex, but when it comes to violence Iím a wimp.† I donít understand how anyone can get off on rape, torture, mutilation and murder.† And yet what really scared me about this book was that I did find some of the sex with violence erotically charged.†† Which I think was Cooperís intention.† He makes the reader complicit so you must face up to your reaction to things easier not to contemplate.† Extreme images come from your imagination as well as Dennisí.† Itís not a novel with a coherent narrative structure, more a series of images loosely linked, spanning 20 years.† There are POV switches, from 1st to 3rd person that jar, but you get used to it.† Cooper uses his own name for the narrative voice to emphasise this is fiction that blurs boundaries between real/fantasy.

The book opens with a detailed description of 5 snapshots of a boy, apparently dead, bound naked on a bed, with a blotch on his ass like a shallow ocean shore cave.† Inside this pit is a hole, out of focus, drawing the eye deeper inside, desperate to see beyond, to know the unknowable.† In 1974, 13 year-old Dennis is shown these photos by Gypsy Pete, owner of a porn store.† For the next 20 years he pursues a series of boys like the one in the pictures:† pale, thin, smooth, dark hair and eyes, spaced out, with big lips.† Cooper demands we consider the effect of pornographic images, and our reactions to violent S&M.† Can we admit to finding eroticism in something so disturbing?† Can murder ever be sexy?

Dennis starts out looking for boyfriends but finds it increasingly difficult to engage emotionally, until he begins to imagine mutilating them during sex.† One day he repeatedly punches his lover, so badly he fears heís killed him.† His fantasies become increasingly violent and depraved, obsessed with sexual death.† He wants to kill but canít do it.† Yet.† As the book gets darker and more disturbing, Dennis writes letters to former boyfriends describing how his fascination with whatís inside leads to demolishing bodies, erasing them totally in an attempt to touch God, like he did long ago with the snuff photos that have directed his whole life. This is the most difficult part of the novel.† Totally repellent.† I found it hard to keep going.† I warn you, it involves a boy as young as 10.† In a windmill, in old Amsterdam.

I was† reminded of a series of TV shows I saw recently, live anatomical dissections, progressively peeling away surface layers of human flesh to expose the mess inside.† What Dennis does is very similar, except his subjects arenít corpses donated to science, and he doesnít let the reader play passive voyeur.† Serial killers arenít cosy. Yet Dennis is a sympathetic character.† Which makes his descent harder to accept.† That heís gay isnít relevant.† He could be a sexually obsessed hetero male killing young girls.† But Cooper isnít afraid to show gay men arenít all good boys looking for marriage & family like Tom & Taylor in Finding Faith.†

Cooper has created characters that could easily carry their own books.† This novel is second in a series of 5.† Itís not for everyone.† If you think you can cope, then itís quite an experience.† Iíve got the movie version, but I canít imagine how it translates without compromising its purpose, titillation rather than moral confusion.