Dennis Cooper
My Loose Thread
Mon June 17 Powell's Books

The cover of Dennis Cooper's most recent book, My Loose Thread, features a blurry picture of the faces of two clowns, blood-like makeup smeared chaotically all over their faces, locked in an intimate pose; they're either fighting, or kissing. Probably a combination of both. "I chose the cover because this artist I like, a friend of mine, did it," Cooper explains. "She did a series of pictures of clowns shooting in school yards, kind of like Columbine. I liked this picture because it captured this weird, tender moment."

Without hearing this explanation, the disturbing cover seems to have nothing to do with the book, but after listening to Cooper explain it, the picture becomes a perfect representation. My Loose Thread is the story of Larry, an extremely confused and disturbed teenager who can't make the distinction between fantasy and reality. His life is defined through acts of violence and sex, and different people--including his brother, with whom he has a sexual relationship--float in and out of the narrative like elusive ghosts.

"I wrote the book as a response not specifically to Columbine, but to the school shootings as a whole," explains Cooper. "At first, I was going to write a nonfiction book about it, because I was so appalled with the media's response to these shootings, to the way they portrayed these kids as if they were Jeffrey Dahmer or something. They're not. They're just confused kids."

But after extensive research into the shootings, Cooper decided to write a fictional book from the point of view of one of these disturbed children. "The thing that helped me begin to write a novel about it was the Kip Kinkel shooting," Cooper explained. "I watched this Frontline episode, and at the end of it they played his confession, and I thought what was really important was to present the state of mind of that kid was in."

Indeed, after the first few pages of the book, it's apparent that for the reader--like the narrator--it's simply impossible to distinguish what is real within the storyline, and what's a product of Larry's insanity. The reader is along for the ride into a reality of utter desperation, confusion, and longing.

"I told everyone I hit Rand because he did something gay to Jim," says Larry, about a friend who may or may not have died because of something Larry did. "I didn't think he actually did until those naked pictures showed up and confused me. I didn't think about what I was feeling for Jim and Rand confused me. I think about what I was feeling for Jim until Rand confused me. I think when I hit him, and maybe the boy or even Tran, I was trying to kill myself out of shock. I don't know if Rand was lying. I don't know if Jim's just an innocent victim, or if Rand was lying. I don't know if Jim's just an innocent victim, or if Rand made that up. I don't know or else want to know if I raped Jim those times, or if Rand only saw it that way because he was gay and I'm not."

Though Larry's mind seems to be in psychotic, insane overdrive, there is a progression to the story--which is short, only 120 pages--and culminates in Larry effortlessly committing an act of violence that is one of the only things portrayed with clarity for both the reader and Larry.

My Loose Thread is a typical Cooper book, in that it addresses the schism between kids and adults and the dark, confusing, sexual reality of that schism. His books often involve death, drugs, and sex. "I suppose my work is sensational," says Cooper. "I mean, it's not trying to be outrageous or anything, but I'm really interested in scary, fucked up things, and I don't have a simple feeling about them. I'm not like 'oh I can't look at that,' or 'it's so hot' ...I think people neuter it before they study it, and I look at those things with the force they have, and then I undercut it. I don't think I ever present things just to titillate; I try to implicate people in their interests. It's more of a seduction and then, kind of a reversal, it's more to get people to think about these things."

Cooper makes no apologies for this character, nor does he pretend to have all the answers. "This is not in any way an attempt to understand why people shoot people in high schools," Cooper explains. "But I feel like I created a participatory experience, and if you actually read the book, you have a sense of understanding what it's like to be in one confused young man's head. Whatever small goal I had for myself is, in that way, accomplished." KATIA DUNN