Rape. Murder. Teens. Transgressive literary anti-star Dennis Cooper can be depended on for a few things—convention, however, certainly isn’t one of them. “I never learned how to write fiction, never even took a fiction writing class, so my books are sort of strangely shaped,” says the 56-year-old writer who unleashed a five book cycle of snuff, drugs and rock ’n’ roll on an unsuspecting literary world beginning with 1989’s brilliant shocker Closer, and then went on to win wide acclaim for 2005’s The Sluts, an ingenious novel told by way of Internet postings on a male escort site.
The latter was a critical success for Cooper, winning him France’s prestigious Prix Sade award, but it only made him want to push further from the mainstream. “In The Sluts,” says Cooper, “I was co-opting forms, which doesn’t interest me much. I want to invent the form.”
The erudite rebel, who now splits his time between Paris and Los Angeles, began his writing career imitating the French libertine Arthur Rimbaud. “He’s the ultimate rebel,” says Cooper. “No one can come close to him.” He adds, with a look of befuddlement in his deep-set eyes, “But in France, they grew up studying him in school, so he’s like the establishment or something.” For Cooper himself, the greatest act of creative rebellion is to break as many rules as possible, while still managing to connect with readers. “I’m always trying to go against the expectations of fiction, and somehow manage to care about the people who read my work.”
His recently released collection of short stories, Ugly Man, taps deeper into a rich vein of humor (see: “The Anal-Retentive Line Editor”). Next, he’ll pen the story of—what else—a fictional 22-year-old French cannibal. As for Cooper’s literary victims and his fascination with the dark side, he says, “I feel compelled to write about that material, to represent teenagers as complex people and give them respect by showing them being brutalized. It’s about conveying how terrible that age can be. It’s a pretty rich area for me.”
Photo: Mary Ellen Matthews