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THE HARROWING STORY OF A WOULD-BE MURDERER
on 11 September 2000
Having explored the vacuousness of life in his first novel 'Closer', controversial gay writer Dennis Cooper set out to examine the boundries between sex and death, fantasy and reality in this second book, perhaps of all his work the one most calculated to appal and offend. This time he places himself, or a character who claims to be himself, at the centre of the narrative. When he is thirteen, 'Dennis' sees a collection of photographs which show a naked teenager bound, mutilated and apparently dead. The effect of these images is to introduce a sharply sadistic streak into his sexual fantasies, to the extent that, even when he discovers, a few years later, that the snuff photographs were really a fake (he meets the supposedly dead boy in person), he has already become unnervingly obsessed with the idea of killing someone himself.
As he grows older and attempts to explain his troubling desires, so too do they become more concentrated in his mind. He wishes to muder a boy, not for the sake of killing him, but to 'understand' him completely. It is not enough for 'Dennis' to deal simply with the external surface of a body: to possess and appreciate it absolutely it is necessary for him to open it up and explore the sights, textures and smells which exist inside it. Put crudely, it is only possible to observe how something works by taking it to bits. 'Dennis' does not see this as a violation but rather an extreme form of adoration, allowing him to feel no sense of remourse or compassion over his 'victims'. In his fantasies, the boys die so that he can fully comprehend their lives. But when 'Dennis' moves from Los Angeles to Amsterdam and starts sending his friends letters which claim he has stepped over the line in has actually begun killing people - letters so detailed and insistent that they appear frighteningly authentic - the reader is faced with a devastating dillema: are they just a continuation of his fantasies, or are these deaths, unlike the snuff pictures, genuinely real?
The very subject matter of the book is likely to put a great many people off before they've even got past the first page, and there's no denying that the constant stream of violent sex, drugged boys and death fantasies becomes almost unbearable as the novel progresses. Cooper's great strength is in forcing the reader out of his passive role and making him take responsibility for reading such a book in the first place. There's a point in the middle of the penultimate chapter, the goriest of the lot, when he says: "I just realised that if you're still reading you must be the person I want you to be." Cooper not only wants to investigate what it says about any writer who is capable of perpetuating such sustained transgression, but also what it says about any reader who is capable of getting through it without throwing the book down in horror/disgust/moral indignation.
But beneath the sensationalist exterior (and there's no doubt that this is Cooper at his most overtly, deliberately shocking) there's a more profound and painfully honest examination of the nature of obsessive desire and sexual fantasies, and how, even if they don't make it into reality, they can still take over and control our lives. We all have someone that we 'love to death', but not since Georges Bataille has a writer set out so adamantly to show us what we might actually mean by it. If you manage to get through it, 'Frisk' is a book which will cause you to realise the tremendous gulf between your own fantasies and your reality, and how prominent a part the former plays in the latter.
Defineitly not for the faint-hearted, but a must for the morally courageous.