Thanks to the internet, my reading life now fields a smooth, even intensity. But when reading came only in intense little apertures in the big dark – that was thrilling. And so many molten tendrils have come off Dennis Cooper that he’s melted the night right out of me. He made me a serious lover of writing and an obsessive reader from Closer on. Nearly a decade away, his new book, the Marbled Swarm, makes me feel like a high school sophomore. I am right where I want to be in the worst place ever. I am not just in love.
I find the terms of sex to be at odds with my decorum.
I am so much more me reading Cooper, more so than in any other facet of my waking life. Cooper contextualizes me instantly. The Marbled Swarm is about cannibalism.
As much as I would love to overrule some chums who’ve called my voice a kind of fancy drainage ditch through which my brilliant father’s voice forever sloshes and evaporates, to ask myself to replicate his words verbatim would be like asking you to travel to Miami on the broken champagne bottle that baptized the ship that could have sailed you there in style.
I can feel my own desire that comes from a lack being eaten by completion when I read those words. As much as I’ve read and how long I have loved his work, the Marbled Swarm is new but accesses every part of me that was vulnerable to his work in the first place.
I’ve never been the kind of person who gyrates into toy stores, not even when my love of things was new and sloppy. After years of hobbling stiffly through Nuit Blanches and theme parks, I began to answer invitations to hit the town with, No, thank you, I have an allergy to stimulus.
My adulation for Cooper comes not only from loving the way he puts words together. My love for his work lives in the same narrow space where I store my defense mechanisms. The titular Swarm is a defense mechanism. Sylvia Plath said she wanted to live, love, and say it well in good sentences. I wanted to say good sentences well to circumvent looking at living and loving.
It was a truth so honest and completely unironic that even I, who presumably believed myself, didn’t understand the point, or why this authenticity had shown up now when I felt least in need of rescuing, or how it wound up in my mouth, or why my mouth was such a bullhorn, or where it had been hiding from the words I’d always used to talk my way around it.
The Marbled Swarm starts you out safe in the rush of a mastermind’s synapses as he unravels a mystery, upper-hand and all, about a rural chateau come up for sale in the wake of an accidental drowning. The manipulative father of the dead boy makes the narrator’s designs on the younger, living son – including cannibalism – seem benevolent. The family’s aggravating hospitality subverts the intrigue: this is a mystery, but they are cloying in their attempts to get the narrator to examine it when all he wants is to move on. An obstacle unspools the infinite regression that overwhelms the rest of the novel, throughout which the narrator tells of his childhood in his mother’s husband’s nefarious kink-maze (an important distinction; he is the progeny of Pierre Clementi). The end resolves nothing of the original mystery, the intriguing qualities of which are defrauded by itself first – so much of it is wishful thinking – and then by facts upended that climax in a stale frankness: this way you have of dealing with things can’t keep those things from happening to you.
Yes, my special needs can make it difficult to score, and no one ever ends up thanking god for meeting me…
The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper is available from Harper Perennial