For a while now, I've been trying to think of one of Dennis Cooper's novels to recommend to people I know who are not quite as in to transgressive work. His work is so important to me, and so influential on me, that I want to share it with others. However, therein lies the problem: do I recommend one of the more extreme books that best represents what Cooper is capable of? Or do I go with one that is less extreme and, though still amazing, is less representative of what Cooper really does?
The process is made even more difficult by the fact that I don't believe extreme art should ever have to apologize for itself. See, the magic that Cooper is working with is scary stuff--dark and powerful because of its darkness. And his work is important precisely because of his insistence on those principles: horrifically terrible things dealt with unflinchingly via prose that is beautiful in its sparseness. I'm not saying anything new here, by the way; there are lots of other scholars who have examined Cooper's work much more closely, and more intelligently, than I am doing here.
So, I finally hit on the solution--to stop trying to close down conversation by only making one choice. Instead, I'll offer these two ideas.
If you feel that maybe you'd like to read Cooper, but you're not sure that you're ready for the more extreme ends of his art, here is a recommendation:
My Loose Thread
Though not in any way an inferior work (this novel still shows Cooper's amazing skill at prose writing), the reader should be aware that it is fundamentally different from most of Cooper's work. Certainly not tame in any way, here is Cooper less concerned with the underlying metaphors of homoeroticism, and more concerned with exploring the implications of school-related shootings.*
The novel I recommend if you want to jump into the deep end of the transgressive pool is
Though Try is the novel most loved by Cooper fans (and I admit I'm partial to it, myself), it is The Sluts that I think of as Cooper's most powerful novel. Here is Cooper's statement on how the internet can bring communities together, even those communities that terrify most of us. Though it is central in other novels, to me this is Cooper's most powerful statement exploring the Orpheus segment of Ganymede to Orpheus to Narcissus cycle that Woods points out (which I freely admit I have taken to heart, as well). Haunting, horrific, terrible and amazing, this novel stays with me to this day, even a few years after reading it.
*= as an interesting side note, though the two works weren't necessarily intended to go together, at the same time I was reading this novel I bought the DVD to Gus Van Sant's film "Elephant" (at Amazon). There was a really interesting dialogue between the book and the film.