cover image Guide


Dennis Cooper / Author Grove/Atlantic $22 (160p) ISBN 978-0-80

At their best, Cooper's works (Try; Closer) explore sex as a simultaneous embrace of and flight from death. Populated by drugged-out adolescent boys living in anomic L.A., Cooper's books balance their lurid subject matter with affectless, economic prose. Guide covers the same territory. The narrator, ""Dennis,"" a novelist and journalist, seduces and is seduced by burnt-out boys, one of whom wants to be killed during sex. But it lacks the intensity and drive of Cooper's best work. Its meandering plot incorporates the death of a 12-year-old boy who overdoses while starring in another porn film; the murder and mutilation of a young man by a dwarf; and the continuous buying and selling of sex between ""Dennis"" and these lost boys that beguile him. Though the novel is occasionally acute (the teenage rock band Silverchair is parodied as ""Tinselstool""; the members' youth prompts the critics to be ""weirdly kind"" rather than dismissive of so derivative a band), much of it is stale and unfocused. Digressions detract from the story they purportedly illuminate. The narrator spends too much time listing the ephebic actors and singers he finds alluring and quoting rock lyrics from garage-grungers Guided by Voices and the British band Blur, among others. Cooper's best work is hypnotic and unsettling in its explorations of the underside of sexual desire. Guide, unfortunately, does not meet that high standard. (June)