High schooler Larry has been enlisted to kill a classmate because he had sex with an insecure neo-nazi and wrote about it in his prolific journal. This is the second person to die at Larry’s hands, the first was a friend who tried to stop Larry from having sex with his own brother, who is in middle school. This is all vaugely disturbing to Larry, but not enough to stop him from raping his friend Tran.

Paul Wong

The plot of Dennis Cooper’s latest novel “My Loose Thread” lacks the dark humor of his earlier work (noteably his five-part George Miles cycle), yet brings sparse intensity and almost no emotion to his colorless world. The utter emptiness of his style is violently off-set by the absurd number of “events” Cooper infuses into his 125-page novella.

Like Gertrude Stein, Cooper endlessly returns to the same several phrases, proving how inadequate words are at expressing pain and insanity. It’s hard to read Larry’s first-person, disjointed prose without feeling confused and squeamish. He is only sympathetic insofar that he cannot seem to control himself. His murderous temper and seemingly unquenchable thirst for the ongoing sexual relationship with his brother are a product of Cooper’s society, and school shootings occur with commas, not punctuation marks.

Yet Cooper eschews the easy explanations (that is, society is bad and creates monsters) by making introspection as evil as brainless consumerism. Larry is in a constant state of flux between blind emotion and quite introspection. Cooper asserts that he is dangerous in both cases. He may violently rape Tran on the spur of the moment, but his incestuous longings are poured over and carefully executed. He has a system.

Cooper does not write for the feint of heart, and the nearly complete lack of humor makes his novel even less accessible. In a society where satire and irony are commonplace, “My Loose Thread” offers no answers. The novel is a horrifying funhouse mirror, showing a society worse than our own, but not so much worse that it can be easily shrugged off.

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