Structured like a gruesome Möbius strip, Dennis Cooper’s latest novel, The Marbled Swarm (Harper Perennial), is a carnivalesque switchback of secret passageways, incest, cannibalism and a haunting sense of isolation.
Our unnamed narrator wastes no time in seducing the troubled Serge. Like a host of lanky emo boys before him, Serge is destined for the plates of an epicurean dinner club. It may or may not be a fitting end, considering recent events. What follows is a labyrinthine coming-of-age tale of sorts staged alternately between a chateau in rural France and a Paris loft with impeccable architectural pedigree. Nothing is quite what it seems, however, and before long our narrator – speaking into a garbled, esoteric language of infinite digression (the eponymous “marbled swarm”) – and his Japanese Manga-obsessed brother find themselves more-or-less willing participants in a surreal sexual tetrahedron that will lead straight back to the beginning.
Increasingly voyeuristic and narcissistic, the novel finds Cooper in fine form as he wields his unequalled genius for the bizarre to tackle the thornier side of father-son dynamics. “The marbled swarm” itself (in part a self-conscious nod to Cooper’s own sense of isolation following his recent emigration to France) is a kind of cursed patrimony perpetuating an identity of isolation. There’s a hint of Oedipus here, and a lingering sense of grief as the narrator grapples with the legacy that is this inherited tongue and all that it entails. “I’d just longed . . . to somehow eat myself without committing suicide, and that was quite a shock,” he reflects late in the book. Such acts may come as a shock to our unnamed narrator, but for fans of Cooper’s transgressive fiction it’s par for the course.
The Marbled Swarm
By Dennis Cooper Harper Perennial Paperback, 9780061715631, 208pp