I once said in a (perfectly judged for potential audience) review that the people that thought The Hunger Games was brutal should try reading some of the work of Dennis Cooper. I was being flippant because I was planning on reading My Loose Thread shortly. Then I thought about it some more.
My Loose Thread opens with the narrator Larry, a sixteen year old boy who has just been paid $500 dollars to kill a friend of his brother. This sounds like the opening of a thriller–will he, won’t he? Moral conundrum, etc. The novel is nothing like that. If morality is at play, it is suppressed under layer upon layer of numbness and unconscious violence and confusion. Not only does Larry kill the boy, in the course of the novel he also rapes a friend, kills some more people, beats up several others, and has sex with his younger brother. And looking at it like a list, you’d expect this to be a lurid melodrama. It’s not. Cooper’s prose is sparse, bleak, and sometimes feels as if it’s barely there. The short sections never quite leave you feeling on any solid footing, and very quickly you find yourself sucked into the blankness of Larry’s life. When he casually talks about burning someone’s bones, you barely blink.
Now, all that might sound like a pretty harrowing read, and it is. However, my first introduction to Dennis Cooper’s novels was Frisk–I’m not even sure where or how I came across it, but possibly the library, but I know I first read a Dennis Cooper novel before university, so I must have only been sixteen or seventeen. I’d never read anything like it, in both a good way and bad way. Frisk is extremely violent. Look it up on Amazon if you want to get a sense of the kind of novel it is. So in comparison, My Loose Thread is much tamer. The key may be its introspection–this is all about Larry’s mind, and all the other fucked-up, confused people around him, and not simply an exercise in pornographic violence. Likewise, looking at that list of events, those people who object to the Hunger Games as teen reading would almost certainly consider a novel like My Loose Thread completely inappropriate teen reading.
I don’t disagree. It is (says the person who read Frisk at sixteen, but then, I read Stephen King at 10 and survived.) But where My Loose Thread excels is in conveying the true alienation, the uncomprehending isolation, the sickening inability to relate or understand your own feelings that is in some ways uniquely teenage. This novel has been described as Post-Columbine, which is slightly lazy as Cooper draws the links himself in the novel. And if all of reading can be summed up as looking for a reflection of ourselves in the words of another, I think many people might identify with Larry (if you overlook the murdering, incestuous rapist side of him of course).
To clarify: I am not suggesting putting My Loose Thread, or any of Cooper’s works, on the school reading list. But I do feel that to a degree the mindset of these characters can probably only be entirely understood by people we would deem to immature to cope with a novel like this.
And somewhere here, my review has wandered off into something no longer about the book, and with little in the way of a structured argument, so I shall conclude with my opinion on the actual book. Yes, it’s bleak as hell, shocking, and leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. It is also a very different reading experience to 95 per cent of the rest of my shelf, which these days is sometimes all I need to recommend something.