Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press


by Dennis Cooper

“The most seductively frightening, best written novel of contemporary urban life that anyone has attempted in a long time; it’s the funniest, too, and does for Clinton’s America what The Tin Drum did for postwar Germany.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review (Ten Best Books of 1997)

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 192
  • Publication Date September 21, 1998
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3580-3
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00

About The Book

Dennis Cooper’s previous books have earned him comparisons to Poe, Baudelaire, and Genet, and thrust him to the forefront of radical new American fiction. Guide is his most original and shocking to date. Written in prose that challenges both the form and content of the novel, and possessed with a narrative of intense power, Guide‘s utterly mesmerizing tone pushes writing on sex, death, and love to a new height.

Narrated in a voice that at time may be construed as the author’s own, Guide is the story of the conflict between a novelist’s fantasy life and his inability to represent it in language. Remembering the clarity and omnipotence he felt during an LSD trip in his teens, ‘dennis’ drops acid and attempts to write a novel that will make sense of his life, his desires, his friends, and his art, and distinguish what is real from the distortions created by his overactive imagination.

Dennis’s sexual relationship with Chris’an addict who fantasizes about being killed”pushes him to the very edge of emotions he has only imagined. His platonic love for Luke, an imaginative, but far more innocent, friend, offers possible salvation from his otherwise crazy life. In episodic chapters that criss-cross through time, Guide weaves together Dennis’s story with these and other characters, including Goof, a young and amazingly innocent porn star, Sniffles, a teenage runaway whose need for love outweighs his attachment to life, and Mason, whose lurid desires are rivaled only by Dennis’s own.

The fourth volume in Cooper’s five-novel cycle, Guide is his deepest study yet of the darker side of human need and the terrifying nature of desire.

Tags Literary Gay


“[Like] the Velvet Underground’s first album . . . Dennis Cooper’s writings have a powerful cult influence.” –Irvine Welsh

“The most seductively frightening, best written novel of contemporary urban life that anyone has attempted in a long time; it’s the funniest, too, and does for Clinton’s America what The Tin Drum did for postwar Germany.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review (Ten Best Books of 1997)

“With Guide, America’s most daring novelist has given us his masterpiece.” –The Face

‘dante’s Inferno with George Bataille as your escort, damaged yet exhilarating.” –Arena


Guided by Voices
Luke’s at Scott’s. Mason’s home jerking off to a picture of Smear’s bassist, Alex. Alex’s jeans are so tight you can make out his ass. It’s sort of nondescript, like a kid’s. Robert, Tracy, and Chris are several miles across town shooting dope. They’re so fucked up. Pam’s directing a porn film. Goof is the star. He’s twelve and a half. I’m home playing records and writing a novel about the afore mentioned people, especially Luke. This is it.
“Robert. You screening calls?” Luke listened. “Guess not.” He hung up.
“They’re still not home?” asked Scott’s mosquitoey voice. It tended to tremble, squeak, wheeze half-inaudibly.
‘depends on what you mean by “home.”” Luke smiled mesmerizingly, he could just tell. Then he let his thought patterns crap out to the music.
Guided by Voices: Everything fades from sight / because that’s all right with me.
Luke’s sweet, deep, a little paranoid, and perpetually on.

Just twenty-five, he has chocolatey shoulder-length hair, a thin face, big, wild eyes, and a tall, narrow body disguised by loose clothes. Scott, thirty-two, is an artist who shows with a hip local gallery. Balding and schlumpy, with an agreeable, unshaven face, he’s overeducated, spaced out, and extremely neurotic.
“Luke, you’re too metaphysical for words.” Scott smiled ” sarcastically?
“Whatever.” Sometimes Scott totally weirded Luke out. Luke grabbed for the phone. “I’ll call Mason.”
Scott stood up and clomped in the bathroom’s direction.
‘mason,” Luke said when a nasal voice answered. “We’re out the door.”
Then Luke sits for a half minute, eyes glazed, absorbing Guided by Voices. Their fractured, archaic pop stylings are not to his taste. He’s into trippy, computer-built, danceable soundscapes. So he has a little daydream re Chris, this acquaintance of mine, Robert’s, Tracy’s, and Mason’s. Chris is a disturbed twenty-two-year-old junkie/porn star who looks like an elongated child. In reality, they’ve never spoken. In Luke’s fantasy, they’re at the used CD store where Chris works, and their eyes accidentally meet. There’s a flash of recognition. It could be emotional, spiritual, sexual, whatever. The details don’t matter.
Scott reentered the living room, sat.
‘d”j” vu,” Luke muttered. He’d seen Scott reenter the room in that exact way before. Time was he’d have figured such thoughts were just fallout from LSD, DMT, Ecstasy. ” Now he knew they were magical.
Guided by Voices: Oh, I ” / wouldn’t dare to ” / bring out this ” / awful bliss.
‘really?” Scott asked with his usual amazement. “You saw me walk in here before? We-ei-ird.”

Once I dropped acid three times a day for a month. It was the summer, my sixteenth. My family was taking our yearly vacation on Maui. I’d made this friend, Craig, a local surfer with great drug connections. Every morning we’d score a few blotter hits, hitch hike to this remote beach, and spend the day zonked, hallucinating, babbling, and swimming around in the ocean. After several weeks, we started to lose it. We’d found this coral reef a short distance offshore. One day we robbed a hotel room, stole a truck, and transported the room’s furnishings to the beach. We towed our loot, piece by piece, through the surf, underwater, and into this huge, cavelike nook in the reef, setting each chair, rug, et cetera, in place, then swimming furiously back for the surface. Our plan was to live in this cave, rent-free, far away from fascistic reality. It never crossed our minds that we wouldn’t be able to breathe.
Mason was waiting in front of his building. Tallish and slim, he had a newborn goatee, tiny eyes, and an ironic manner. Seeing Luke’s car, he gave a tidy little wave that was a bit self-parodic.
“Hey,” the trio announced in a cluster.
As they drove, Mason declaimed about the beauty of Smear’s bassist, who’d just inspired a new group of his famous collages.
One afternoon we were hitchhiking out to our favorite beach when a carload of young Hawaiian natives pulled up. They half-jokingly ordered us into their car. Being fried, we agreed. It was a known fact that most of the locals hated white tourists, whom they accused of gentrifying their island. They especially hated the hippies. And with our long hair and cutoffs, we qualified. As they drove, the car’s occupants taunted us. One whipped out a knife. I don’t remember too well, but somewhere along the way they announced they were going to kill us. Craig played along. But I started crying and pleading with them, which I guess spoiled their fun, since they pulled the car over and ordered us out. They drove off. We were safe, but I couldn’t shake off my hysteria. For the next maybe ten or so hours I lay by the side of the road, convulsing, screaming, flailing my arms and legs uncontrollably, hallucinating so hard it was like being constantly punched in the face, while poor Craig tried in various ways to attract me back into the real.
“Is this funereal enough?” Tracy fed the new Guided by Voices CD into the player and punched track 15. “There.” She rose to her feet.
Out poured a charred, thudding song redolent of the early punk era but sweetened, perhaps in production. Within seconds an irony-drenched vocal sliced through, and Tracy returned to the couch, eyeing Robert suspiciously.
“Kind of,” said Robert. Like Tracy, he was short, pale, watery-featured, and twenty. His deep-set blue eyes were consistently sad, but his voice had a brittle, imperious manner, which made him unpopular, hence lonely. Hence that look in his eyes.
I’ve successfully blocked out those ten scary hours, but they were the worst and most profound of my life. I felt completely alone and lost. In my few clearer moments, between hallucinations, I believed I’d gone totally insane, or what people characterize as insane, and suspected I’d never return to the world, in which Craig, acting as the unofficial ambassador for everyone I’d ever known, saw me off with such bewildering tenderness. I wasn’t confused. Despite my explosive behavior, I felt an unusual clarity. I knew more than I’d known, and yet, as part of my mental upgrading, I understood how this “genius’ would isolate me. All that other-worldly information, so suddenly focused, available, et cetera, had no accompanying language. But in describing my state, I’m unable to note more than its skimpiest outline. That’s my point. How can I bring what I learned in that world into my everyday consciousness, then translate those thoughts into palatable terms, even assuming the knowledge is still in my brain somewhere? It’s one of my big goals in life.
“Kick him,” said Robert. He pointed at Chris, whose long, slight, androgynous body lay spookily still on the carpet. It had a Piet”-esque twist.
In the background, Guided by Voices blared away, giving the situation a tense, darkly comical spin.
Tracy shrugged. “If he’s dead, he’s dead.”
“Well, what if he’s dying?” Robert’s eyes attacked hers, although, mentally at least, he was horrified, period.
Chris had been drugging himself in death’s general direction for years, to his friends’ mild amusement. In a way, they were partly to blame, having offered half-jokey encouragement, supplying heroin, works ” not to mention their numerous, lengthy discussions of suicide and so forth. Tonight he’d crossed the line, it appeared. His ‘minute to rest,” i.e., his little struggle with bad nausea, had lasted ” two unnervingly motionless hours, more or less.
Tracy dipped the pointy tip of her shoe into Chris’s black jeans and gave a very slight push.
Guided by Voices: When you motor away / beyond the once-red lips “
“Oh, shit.” Robert stuck out his shoe, kicked. Chris slid a half foot toward the door. His hands did little flip-flops. The palms bloomed. His face sort of ” slackened, is one way to put it.
Guided by Voices: When you free yourself / from the chance of a lifetime “
Among recreational drugs, only heroin and LSD access the sublime, to my knowledge. Still, their styles are completely dichotomous. LSD can make anyone brilliant–temporarily, at least–but there’s a catch, i.e., it also renders one freakish, inarticulate, an idiot savant uncomprehendingly jailed within the crude rights and wrongs of the world’s ‘sane” majority. Opiates, on the other hand, tend to instigate a flirtation with death, which, of course, is a physical state one can only romanticize, which, as a consequence, makes one’s flirtation with dying inherently profound, since “profound” and “unknowable” are synonyms, right? But serious opiate use can lead to actual death, and while dying lets users transcend their society’s simplistic presumptions, it leaves the dead person’s life and beliefs vulnerable to the lame revisioning of the long-lived.
In the Whisky’s dim men’s room, Luke and Scott stood in parallel stalls, shaking piss off their dicks.
“LSD,” said a weary voice.
Luke zipped up, did a three-quarter turn.
“It’s Owsley,” continued a tall, sunburned, skateboardy kid with blond dreadlocks. His eyes radiated a cut-rate malevolence. ‘made to the specifications of the old hippie chemist himself,” he continued. ‘so it’s fierce shit.”
One more thing while I’m remembering it. A year, maybe two, before my Mauian flip-out–when I was fourteen, I think–I did mushrooms with five or so friends. One of them, Lee, a half-Korean pianist, began to hallucinate so furiously that he exited his body–or so it appeared, since his face lost all warmth and tore wide open, every orifice flared in a grotesque silent scream. The sight totally unsettled the rest of us. Well, all except for his girlfriend, who wasn’t stoned, and who kept studying his wrenched, frozen face, then turning to us and whispering, with a huge, clueless smile, “God, I want to be in there with him.” That moment has really stayed with me, I don’t know why.
“Wh-wha “?” Chris mumbled. He raised his head.
“Chris,” Robert said, trying to sound unperturbed. “We should go. If we want to catch Smear at the Whisky, I mean.”
Tracy was hunched over, cooking a shot for the road. The spoon blackened, crusted up, et cetera, in the tip of a skinny flame.
They each do a shot. Then they sprawl around for a few minutes, nodding out, nodding in. Robert organizes them into a unit that fits through the door, down the street, and into Tracy’s truck, which he insists upon driving, being a total control freak. En route, each one thinks spacily about death. To Robert, death is the enemy. When it’s a subject, he broods, period. Tracy weighs dying’s positives and negatives. To her, death means suicide, an act she contemplates almost every day as a way to ” control her life? Chris just wants to die. It’s been his lifelong obsession. To become dead as gradually and with as much intricacy as is humanly possible. He wants to feel himself fading away from one world, fading into what’s next. There’d be a point, he imagines, when he would be simultaneously dead and alive. For that moment, however tiny, he’d know everything there is to know about human existence.
I’m playing an LP that came out the summer I took too much acid. As soon as the needle eased down on its crackly surface, that experience flashed back.
The phone rings. Shit. “Hello, yeah,” I say into it.
“It’s me.” Luke was barely a rip in some distorted pop music. Smear’s “We’re So High,” by the sound of it.
“Luke,” I blurt. “Hey.” I just totally fucking adore Luke.
“Listen, you won’t believe this,” Luke yelled. ‘scott and I just dropped acid. But nothing’s happening yet.”
Chris works at a used CD store. For kicks he collects children’s literature and acts in cheap porn films. He’s relatively asexual, but not from confusion. Sex just isn’t an issue, except when he needs some quick cash or wants badly enough to be friends with someone who’s attracted to him. He blames drugs, which have helped him evolve. He’s been stoned in one way or another since he was eleven. Drugs’ pharmaceutical kick has circumvented whatever makes sex so supposedly sublime. Chris doesn’t need people, at least not in that lovey-dovey, spiritual way. All of which gives him a slightly ethereal air. So he’s kind of invisible–to most peers, at least. But every once in a while, a certain woman or man will obsess on him. Mostly abject, artsy types, for some reason. Being passive and drugged out, he’s easily drawn into others’ emotional gravity.
When Chris, Robert, and Tracy lurched into the Whisky, Luke hugged them, especially Chris.
Smear: We’re so high / We want to fall all over you.
Robert nodded out, in for the band’s entire set. Smear seemed fine, no big deal. He supposed they were cute. When the house lights came up, he asked Mason, who was both gay and intelligent, “What did you think?”
“That I want to have sex with the bassist.”
I want to name-check the record I’m playing, since its dated style is influencing my words. It’s Donovan’s Mellow Yellow. Donovan was an acid-head folkie who put out two brilliant late-60s LPs, then kicked drugs, went New Age, and became the embarrassing space case his name brings to most people’s minds. For a brief time he managed to translate the tone of an LSD high into exotic yet palatable songs. They’re more souvenir-like than knowledgeable, but they do draw a sketch, however kitschy in tone, of that particular mental locale. Beneath their lame “period” surface, I can detect an eerie hint of enlightenment’s siren.
Sunset Boulevard curved to the left ” right ” left ” right ” Its shapeliness made Robert want to get high, but what didn’t?
“Can you drop me at Pam’s?” Chris asked. He’d been slouched in between his friends, lost in forgettable daydreams. I starred in one, for a second.
‘sure.” They’d stopped at a light. Robert and Tracy were trading fierce, miserable winces encoded with tons of interpersonal bullshit.
For years after my ten-hour freak-out, I wouldn’t touch drugs. Then they filtered back into my lifestyle again, one by one. Except for acid, the mere idea of which gave me a mild nervous breakdown. Still, memory’s weird. And there came this one night when ” But I’m getting ahead of myself. Point is, some of the drugs I was using–pot, hashish, speed, mushrooms, Ecstasy– referenced my acid trip, but in a manageable way, sort of like documentary films do their nonfictional subjects. I would experience a shadowy form of the original freak-out, and the proximity thrilled me. So I started to flirt with my long-lost insanity, with drugs’ assistance. Some nights I would wind up so mentally gone that my drug-buddy friends had to slap me around, trying to coerce me back.

As Luke drove, the freeway lost ” something.
What if the stars are the sky, and the sky is the stars? Scott was thinking. He studied the windshield. If the blackness is solid, a wall, and the white bits are speckles of light that have escaped from whatever’s just past that black barrier.
In the backseat, Mason sat, eyes unfocused, imagining collages.
That’s where the truth is, Scott thought. In that whiteness the sky keeps away from our knowledge. What if a 747 were flown into one of those specks? Wouldn’t ” that “?
A year ago, when I was writing for Spin magazine, the editor asked me to spend a few days with an HIV-positive, homeless teenager named David and his gang of friends, then write up what happened. One of David’s friends was a tall, blond, angelic punk rocker and part-time street hustler named Sniffles. He asked me to buy him, and maybe because I was lonely and sort of depressed at the time, I did. Thing is, he liked to be hit and slapped around, and even though my imagination’s a freezer compartment for violent thoughts, I’m a wuss. I was into crystal meth at the time, and before we went to bed I chain-snorted a gram. Crystal makes me psychotically horny. Sniffles had just dropped some Ecstasy, so he was feeling all warm and invulnerable. Anyway, things went a little insane. I intend to go into the details, just not at the moment. First, I need to arrange a few things so I’ll feel more at ease.
As soon as I open the front door, it’s obvious. ‘shit, you guys are really fucked up,” I say, looking from Luke’s stricken face to Scott’s, Mason’s.
“Not me,” Mason said. And he wandered inside.
Scott veered past my shoulder. “Oh, boy,” he said, blinking. “Where’s the ” living room?”
Scrounging around in one pocket, Luke found, produced the last hit of acid. “Throw this away,” he insisted. “Immediately.”
It’s spooky how Ecstasy floods one with indiscriminate affection. It’s a chemical lie. It kills thought, undermines sensibility. LSD, on the other hand, neatly demystifies sex. It can. I remember. On a great acid trip, you begin to realize the insidious way lust distorts almost every decision we make. Acid encourages us to embrace isolation, to disempower other human beings, especially their bodies. When LSD works, it makes clear how inane and addictive sex is, and how culture’s overvaluation of physical contact keeps us from a true understanding of life-and-death issues. Maybe this lesson has particularly struck home in my case, since my fantasy life is so sexual in nature and murderous in content.
“Later, guys.” Chris, hugging himself to keep warm, trotted into a typical, faintly lit mini-mall. When he turned to wave bye, his friends’ truck was a dot.
On the truck’s staticky radio, Pavement’s “Cut Your Hair” cross-faded into ” uh, Guided by Voices?
“Let’s fucking end it,” said Robert. The idea arrived out of nowhere. Words just ” formed, disconnected from everything else. He thought for a second, then steered toward some oncoming traffic.
Tracy’s eyes watered. “Okay,” she said. And she covered her face.
I’ll say this once. I’m extremely fucked up. It doesn’t show, but I am. Over the years I’ve developed a sociable, generous side, which I train on the people I know. It makes them feel grateful, which makes me feel purposeful. But secretly, I’m so confused about everyone and everything. Sometimes these moods will just come out of nowhere and lay me out. I’ll curl up in bed for long periods of time, catatonic and near-suicidal. Or I’ll space into a murderous sexual fantasy wherein some cute young acquaintance or stranger is dismembered in intricate detail, simply because he’s too painfully delicious, i.e., through no fault of his own. But LSD cured this psychosis–in hindsight, at least. That’s why I’m going to slip, as ‘recovery” types like to say. Because for ten long-lost, jumbled-up hours I’d known a kind of ” whatever, peace? That’s my current belief.
“Luke’s so ” amazing,” I say, knowing that word’s limitations. I’m thinking about ” well, pretty much everything about him. “It’s just overwhelming, you know?”
“You think?” Mason asked. “I guess I can vaguely remember deciding so once.”
Something about the black shirt Scott was wearing made Luke sort of astral-project into “
“Where’s that kiddie porn tape?” Mason asked. He’d crouched down by the shelves where I keep CDs, videos.
This is sort of a secret, but Chris and I are involved. The whats, hows, wheres, whys will come along later. Suffice it to say that Chris is my type. Then factor in his death wish, which is neatly aligned with my aforementioned dreams. Problem is, now that my fantasy’s so doable, I can tell how complex the thing is. I’m not just stupidly tranced by the prospect of killing some boy during sex, even if that great idea’s been a bit too ignited by Chris’s and my interactions. Anyway, I’m sort of torn between Chris, who accesses the evil in me, and Luke, whom I’m beginning to love in a pure, unerotic, devotional way that I never would have thought myself capable of even four months ago. And I have to make a choice, or I want to. Actually, I’ve made my choice. That’s why Chris has to go, I don’t know how.
A twelve-year-old kid stands around in Pam’s studio, giggling. Marijuana smoke honks in and out of his freckled little nose. He has a delicate build and extremely black hair.
Chris shoots him a look of, well ” sadness, bewilderment, jealousy. Some combination of those.
“Want a toke?” the kid asks. A shaky hand holds out the joint. “”Cause “” His eyes get confused. “” uh “” His jaw drops an unflattering inch, his eyes glaze. The whole face kind of ” stiffens, as if it were made out of clay and Pam’s place were a kiln.
Scott saw through Luke. Literally. The guy was a multihued mist. Luke, staring back, noticed something elaborately off-key in the world. Because Scott’s eyes were too ” dried out. When Luke wasn’t there, beyond stoned, in a friend’s living room, appreciating the fibrous texture of ” what’s-his-name’s eyes, his view was blocked, thoughts mechanically consumed by a weird hallucination, i.e., he kept driving his car over a squashed, sizzling dog on some intensely overlit desert road. Really, over and over and over.
“Amazing,” I say, studying Luke’s gone expression. “How long “?”
A purplish-red orb strobed intently somewhere in Luke’s universe.
‘don’t ask me,” Mason said from my kitchen. He cracked the fridge. I heard a beer bottle gasp. “First they kept saying how fucked up they were. Then they shut up completely. So ” since they shut up, I guess. Twenty minutes?”
I’m studying the pill. “Want to split this?”