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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE INCREDIBLY EMPTY LIVES OF AMERICAN TEENAGERS, 11 Sep 2000
This review is from: Closer (Paperback)
'Closer' was Dennis Cooper's first full-length novel, having spent twenty years making a name for himself as a gay poet whose principal themes were drugs, sex, death, teenagers and the general meaninglessness and inexplicability of life. Even by gay standards his work is controversial, because of his refusal to shy away from the darker corners of gay desire. Indeed, it is in the dark corners that most of his work resides, exploring the boundaries (or perhaps revealing the terrifying absence of boundaries) between the barely excusable - obsession, sadism, violence, perversion - and the completely inexcusable - paedophilia, rape, mutilation, muder.
This novel is in fact closer to a collection of inter-related short stories (which seems to be how it began life) centring aroung the beautiful but intensely vulnerable high school sophomore George Miles. As a number of friends and acquaintances relate in turn how they noticed, fell for, enticed, seduced and bedded George, a picture begins to emerge of his alarming passivity when it comes to sex, as if he finds it easier to lie down and 'play dead', allowing his partners to do what they want to him, than take any active role himself. The majority of his lovers (most of whom are so self-obsessed that they try to use sex with George as a way of figuring out what they think and feel about themselves, without much success) become so unnerved by his behaviour that they cannot maintain the relationship. Before long, however, George comes to the attention of a group of older men, who find his corpse-like quality during sex more stimulating than his peers.
The book's power comes from George's complete inability to explain the way he behaves. He attempts to blunt the appalling hollowness of his life and his incapacity to articulate who or what he is by being permanently stoned, constantly seeking out sexual contact in the hope that other people will be able to supply the substance his own existence lacks. However, the lives of the other characters are just as shallow and directionless: John refuses to comment on the meaning of his weird artwork for fear that it might not actually mean anything; David withdraws into a complete fantasy world where he is a famous pop star adored by all (whereas in reality even George has dismissed him as insane); Phillippe becomes addicted to coprophagia as a way of escaping the fact that he doesn't have the guts to murder anyone. And over all of them hangs the disquieting thought that, in the end, their deaths may well prove more significant than their lives ever were.
Cooper's world, shot through with moments of bleak humour and genuine horror, is a shocking, moving and worrying place to be (worrying because of how close it might come to the truth). This book, the first in a five novel cycle, explores the extent to which the emptiness in our lives cannot ultimately be overcome, and how all our interactions with each other - taking drugs, having sex, getting a boyfriend, falling in love - cannot be imbued with a meaningfulness they do not possess. Although this book will still upset the faint-hearted, Cooper left it to his later novels to explore the full horror of the lengths to which some people will go to fill this gaping emptiness.
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Closer (Cooper, Dennis)
Closer (Cooper, Dennis) by Dennis. Cooper (Paperback - 18 Jan 1994)
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