I will start off this week’s Flik with a warning: this book is not for everyone. It is violent. Very violent. But it deserves its place here due to its interesting style and pure power of fascination. The novel is The Sluts by Dennis Cooper, published in 2004.
It is an interesting read – both because of the story and the ingeniousness of its narrative. The plot revolves around a young male prostitute called Brad, and his customers and lovers. Possibly. The thing is, you never really know what’s going on. Part 1 of the novel consists of reviews of “Brad” posted on a site for male escorts. Several customers post their opinions and experiences with Brad, and there’s the occasional post by the webmaster interspersed. However, since this is an online forum, nobody can be sure that the posters are who they say they are, and even whether they are different people – for all we know, one person could be behind the whole discussion. From their posts, you can glimpse the fate of the boy they call Brad, but you need to work to distinguish between what is plausible and what is most likely made up. We don’t even know if the “Brad” in question is the same young man throughout!
Part two is made up of ads for prostitutes and conversations between the man who posted the ads and his potential lovers. Part three is an online message board dedicated to “Brad” and whatever happened to him, and features a number of more or less active posters. Again, many of the posts are revealed to be fake, while others are shrouded in uncertainty. Part four is an e-mail exchange between someone who may or may not be Brad, and another man who may or may not be his former lover (and possible serial killer), Brian. Again, the reader has to work to separate fact from fiction – particularly since we only get one side of the e-mails: the replies are not included. In the fifth and final part of the novel, we come full circle back to the reviews. In addition to the main story of Brad, there are several subplots which are equally confusing. You always get the feeling that there is so much going on that you cannot quite grasp – but you really really try. It’s not a book to be read passively.
The novel deals with sado-masochism, violence, sex, disease and abuse within a fraction of the gay community in California – and one boy’s fate within this community. It is at times a difficult read, due to its graphic descriptions of violence. But if you can stomach that, I truly recommend it: it’s one of those books you cannot put down until you finish it (I actually left a concert early to finish it…), and it’s also a fairly quick read. It’s structurally complex but the language is stylish, easy and straight-forward. It will leave an impression on you whether you like it or not.
But don’t take my word for it! The great Bret Easton Ellis himself calls Cooper a “brilliant, triumphantly lurid writer as well as a supremely talented elegant stylist, whose prose is smart and nervy.” And The Sluts was also named one of the Top 25 Books of the Year by the Village Voice.
Enjoy this slightly disturbing read! I promise I’ll come back with something sweeter and nicer next time…