What can one say about Dennis Cooper that hasn’t already been said? Plenty, when it comes to his newest book, “Ugly Man”. Cooper’s style while sometimes short, and rough has a beautiful and skillfully scattered prose style that one can compare to Samuel Beckett’s. In this newest collection, Dennis returns to his earlier writing style, one he seems completely comfortable with. These dark, violent and at times gruesome stories may shock or even repulse some readers. Yet for those who are familiar with his style, he will give the reader something new, something they won’t find in his earlier works – a sliver of humor among the twisted and disturbed lives of his characters.
The collection begins with a story that was previously published in 1993. “Jerk” is the story of a man performing a puppet show in which he reenacts his childhood crimes helping his friend and an older man rape, torture and kill consenting young men who are looking for a way out. Yet in the Cooper style, the young men change their minds after several rounds of torture. However, the three men won’t stop and record their actions on videotape. In the title story “Ugly Man”, the protagonist has a fatal disease that causes him to physically wither away. In order to satisfy his sexual needs he hires hustlers, despite the fact that he knows that they too will soon fall victim to the disease. In “Graduate Seminar” the protagonist details his art project in which he follows a young hitchhiker across country. But when they meet up with a trucker his art project takes on a gruesome and violent twist. Murder for the sake of art.
For all of us writers out there, Cooper has written the ultimate story, “The Anal-Retentive Line Editor”. This is Cooper at his best. The story progresses through a series of edits of a gay erotic thriller. It is through these edits that the writer and editor form an explicit, and somewhat twisted game of seduction.
“Ugly Man” is one of Cooper’s finest works. While it is not for the faint of heart or for those with a weak stomach, these stories will pull the reader into a dark universe of perverse and psychotic individuals that won’t let them go. By the end, the reader may just find some blood on their hands as well.
Reviewed by Bill Holden