Periodby Dennis Cooper
“A fascinating, intricately crafted jewel of a book . . . It’s a book one could read over and over and never exhaust.” –Dodie Bellamy, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
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Dennis Cooper’s previous four novels–Closer, Frisk, Try, and Guide–have established him as a completely unique, fearlessly radical voice in contemporary American fiction. Charting a path of exploration across the rich themes of sex and death, youth culture, and the search for the ineffable, perfect object of desire, Cooper’s novels are mesmerizing works of extreme minimalism that have earned him an outstanding critical reputation and a devoted following.
Now comes Period–the end of the sentence, and the final statement of Cooper’s five-book cycle. In it, Cooper has taken his familiar themes–strangely irresistible and interchangeable young men, passion that crosses into murder, the lure of drugs, the culpability of authorship, and the inexact, haunting communications of feeling–and melded them into a novel of flawless form and immense power. Set in a spare, smoke-and-mirror-filled world of secret Web sites, Goth bands, Satanism, pornography, and Outsider art, Period is at once a monument to the memory of George Miles–the object of obsession in Closer–and a literary disappearing act as mysterious as it is logical. Frankly obsessive, beautiful, darkly comic, Period is a stunning achievement.
“A fascinating, intricately crafted jewel of a book . . . It’s a book one could read over and over and never exhaust.” –Dodie Bellamy, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“Period is an elegy to the nature of obsessive love, the need to feel . . . [Cooper] is a profoundly original American visionary, and the most important transgressive literary artist since Burroughs.” –Daniel Reitz, Salon
“[Cooper’s] synaesthetic subliminal metaphors should be outlawed, so quickly and lethally do they sink into your subconscious.” –Ben Neihart, Bookforum
“Haunting and violent yet strangely gorgeous . . . slender and razor-sharp . . . Period is one of the most compact”yet easily the most stylistically complex”works of fiction in years.” –Scott Heim, Paper
“[Dennis Cooper] has come closer to anyone to reanimating the spirit of Burroughs. . . . Haunting.” –Richard Goldstein, The Village Voice Literary Supplement
“Beautifully written . . . I imagine this will become many people’s favorite book, a talisman to be carried around with them. . . . [Dennis Cooper] is master of this sort of stuff and as Bob Dylan (and Nick Cave) have pointed out in song: Death Is Not the End.” –The Independent on Sunday (U.K.)
“Within this slim volume is packed a cosmos of desire and loss. . . . With all its pop trappings, Period is a religious book. It tackles the big subjects’God and the Devil, Meaning, Life and Death, Love and Loss, Light and Dark”and makes them live again. . . . Period doesn’t so much end as fly out of our atmosphere and into orbit, ever circling, ever refracting.” –San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle Book Review
“Cooper’s crooked prose . . . [has a] liberating disregard for conventional lyricism. . . . Period is ultimately less shocking than it is heartbreaking. It’s about loneliness and desire and the ways in which they twist us in the great brutal nothing of the American soul.” –L.A. Weekly
“A Chinese puzzle of a book . . . executed with such a deft touch, such an ear for incoherent teen language, you’ll want to start over as soon as you’ve finished. A triumphant finale to one of the most intense series of novels ever written.” –Mondo (U.K.)
“Cooper’s voice is like that of punk rock singer who has stopped screaming and is tapping out ghostly love songs with stones and whispered words.” –Out
“Perhaps no book quite so completely illustrates both the deconstruction of the American novel and the alienation of our country’s techno-savvy youth. . . . In his attempt to capture the burgundy-velvet love of alienated youth and the trap of possessing the one you love only to find yourself possessed, Mr. Cooper has created a fast, strong puzzle of a novel.” –Philadelphia Weekly
“A wandering through the rooms of the mind . . . [and] an intricate musing on the nature of reality, dreams, and obsession . . . Cooper’s prose in this book is his most lyrical.””Lambda Book Report
“A literary snuff film scripted by Borges.” –City Pages
“An increasingly brilliant five-work cycle of fiction . . . [Period] is a dark elegy, a formally intense tribute to love lost, and another great book from a writer who will one day be seen as the missing link between Georges Bataille and Kathy Acker. Ingenious.” –Uncut (U.K.)
“Period is a startling work of fiction.” –Gregory Howard, Review of Contemporary Fiction
“Undaunted readers will find a subversive brilliance and considerable wit behind this darkly comic ride through the looking glass of marginal youth culture. . . . Cooper plumbs themes of obsession, love, identity, authorial paradox, and communication breakdown with virtuosic narrative technique.” –Publishers Weekly
A little town made up of rickety shacks largely hidden away in some humongous oak trees that this thick fog enclosed almost all day sometimes so most residents stayed at home though a handful might walk up the dirt road each morning and buy some supplies while this strange deaf-mute teenager sat on the steps of the general store writing things in his notebook and glanced around worriedly every once in a while with this scrawl in his eyes thinking who knows what circuitous shit.
Nate’s eyelids shut, bunched, quivered a fraction, then opened to show off a mind built of weird contradictions. His eyes were amber, a bit dilated, and sparkly. Too excitable to know, yeah? So Leon checked how he was reflecting in them, and, sure enough, he looked scared. “I got this idea,” Nate said.
“Oh?” Leon couldn’t believe he was sitting around in the presence of someone so … mentally out there. Hopefully, Nate felt vice versa for him.
Nate turned away, spat. “I’m thinking we could ask Satan for something.” All this bullshit was said in a thick Southern accent that made him impossible to know very well, if at all. Hence, the charisma.
“Yeah, like what?” Leon’s bewilderment did something odd to his voice. Luckily, Nate was always so into his own crazy thoughts. It made others feel useless. Hence, the charisma.
“I’m thinking for sex.” Nate snickered just so. There couldn’t have been a more perilous moment. In the background, his boombox was playing the newest cassette by The Omen, a crappy Satanic rock band that he loved.
“You got someone in mind?” Leon said, utilizing a half-joking, fake, noncommittal, weak voice that exactly reflected his actual feeling.
“Well …” Nate studied Leon, his eyes growing more colorful if sort of uglier. Less distant, but much, much more fascist. In other words, incomprehensible. Maybe Nate’s huge IQ was the problem. “I’ll show you.”
3:07: Don’t like those boys.
3:09: They’re evil.
3:10: Excuse me.
3:10: Reading their lips.
3:12: They got something bad in their minds.
3:13: Think it’s sex.
3:13: Think they said me.
3:15: Me for sure.
3:18: Go away.
3:20: Think of something else.
3:21: When the wind hits a treetop, it’s born.
3:23: It keeps changing.
3:23: Big dog head.
3:24: Ocean wave.
3:24: Can’t decide.
3:25: They’re still there.
3:26: Gonna stare ’em down.
– Sitting there. Writing in that notebook.
– The guy who looks weirdly like you.
– Yeah. Let’s just say theoretically … we ask Satan to give him to you for your sexual purposes. You know, to sort of distract you from me.
– Fuck you.
– That way you can do it with him, and we can just be best friends, ‘cos–
– Fuck off.
– … seriously, Leon, for the million billionth time, I’m way too fucked up. Trust me.
– You say that now.
– I’ll say that in Hell.
– But it wouldn’t be the same with him. Come on.
– Sure, it will. He can’t talk, he can’t hear. It’ll be like you’re playing with me. You can fool around with him or whatever you want.
– I don’t know.
– Look at him. He looks sort of like me if I was nervous.
– Yeah, okay. It’s spooky.
– It’s fate.
– Maybe. What’s the plan?
– Oh, no plan yet. I’m just talking.
Leon unfocused his eyes on the swaying around of a tree outside the shack’s dusty window. Its limbs were entrancingly lighted. But he couldn’t connect how he felt with its beauty. So he turned his head slightly and studied a framed photograph of his only friend, Nate, in particular two amber eyes. They were a little too friendly, but nowhere near cozy enough. Finally he closed his own eyes and very neatly unlit everything in his mind ’til there was only the heat of the day–which was slow and very weighty with moisture, and laced like a shoe with the whirring of flies–and the bed, which was cold and uneven and had no effect. Thus he was left to himself. And to his imagination. And to the sizzly sun. And to the sounds of the jiggling tree. And he pictured that deaf boy’s face, made a fist, closed it around himself, raised it up, then brought it down hard in the direction of Hell, up and down, over and over, until he’d completely erased shit.
Don’t be scared, Nate yelled through his chapped, smelly hands. It’s me, Bob. He was standing before an old shack where this outsider artist of no repute lived, worked, and sort of kept to himself. Sometimes Nate hiked way out here, and let the psychotic guy screw him for kicks.
The slat door swung open so roughly it knocked loose a yellowish dust cloud from somewhere. Out piled this grizzled type, scrubbing his paint-spattered hands with a gross rag. Obviously it’s you, Bob said. He squinted hard at the woods’ disheveled edge, then made a grab for Nate’s ass.
Bob couldn’t be around Nate without half seeing George, some dead boyfriend. He’d left this heaviness in Bob’s mind. These days, Bob did whatever bullshit it took to actualize the guy’s feel, from screwing near look-alikes to illustrating the past with his art like a ramshackle Disney.
Wait, Nate said. Before I forget. I want to see that new thing you’re making up in the hills. Word around town was the guy had gone totally evil or nuts, on account of how freakish it looked next to everything else. Then Nate clenched his ass into a rock, and held it tight, ’til Bob promised.
9:02: Leaf shaking, tree to the right.
9:10: Something on the road?
9:47: Was asleep for a while.
10:12: Deer on the hill.
10:13: Thinking of shooting that deer.
10:15: Nailed it.
10:17: It’s shaking a little.
10:23: Still now.
10:34: Okay, okay. More deer. I see ’em.
10:35: Two of ’em. Shit.
10:40: Got one of ’em. Head, I think. Other deer took off.
10:43: Going down there to look.
11:12: Back. It’s dead.
11:13: Want to drag it up here.
11:42: Too tired.
11:50: Nothing on the road.
11:52: Still nothing.
12:11: Wind blowing the deer’s fur around.
1:01: Was asleep for a while.
1:04: Thinking of dragging that other dead deer over here.
1:06: Yeah. I’m off.
1:48: Laid that deer down by the first deer.
1:50: Watching ’em.
1:53: Gonna push ’em closer together.
With a jab of his elbow, Nate broke the store’s window. No alarm, nothing. Leon reached through the uneven star and came back with a shitload of jewelry.
They ran until they’d reached that weird place only they recognized.
Leon was so spent, he couldn’t think shit. The necklaces, watches, and pins formed a garish-ass pile in the grass. It looked for all the world like Satan’s hatchet face laughing or yelling in profile, from their angle at least.
The sky was so muggy and black they could barely stand up. They’d been snorting crystal meth every hour for hours. Leon felt nothing but horny for Nate by this point. That hurt. Everything was hateful apart from how wildly he longed for the fucker.
Leon shut his eyes, reopened them, and made himself look available. He never could figure out how he did that. Except that it came maybe ninety percent from the way he was built.
Nate removed article after article of clothing until there was technical human perfection, as far as Leon was concerned. There shouldn’t have been anyone in the world that important. It killed him.
– Satan, it’s us. We’re calling you. Shit, it’s fucking cold out here.
– Wait, put on some music. Put on The Omen tape. It’s in the …
– Found it.
– Maybe louder. Cool. Now kill the cat.
– It’s fucking scratching me. Shit, shit.
– Keep stabbing it.
– Now put it in the circle of candles. On top of the jewelry.
– Okay. Satan we’re calling you. Come into the circle of candles. We got a little gift for you.
– We love you, Satan. You’re the coolest.
– Fuck, that’s him. Look at that. It’s like a smudge. On the cat.
– Oh, shit.
– I think he’s screwing me. Ow.
– Relax, let him. It’s his thing, man. Uh … welcome Master of Darkness. We want to ask you for something. We want you to give Leon that deaf boy. What’s his name?
– Dagger. Ow, ow.
– We want Dagger to be Leon’s sex slave, so he can do what he wants. Can you do that for us?
– Ow, ow.
– Give us a sign. Wait, is that it? You see that?
– The wind couldn’t do that, right?
– I … don’t think so.
That? Nate said, spotting the first foggy, tree-obscured view of an average, citified house. It sat in a completely impractical spot, several strenuous uphill, twisting, turning miles away from any road. ‘Cos he’d expected a huge nude statue of that George guy at least. I mean, fuck it.
Quiet down, Bob said, and opened the front door a crack. Turns out that inside the hospitable front there was zip, inkiness. Still, thanks to the scrawny, vague inflow of daylight, Nate could guess it was all divvied up into rooms, hallways, and maybe even a staircase, all painted wild black.
It’s a hellmouth, isn’t it? Nate said. ‘Cos there was a definite essence of Satan inside. Some sort of creepy crawly glow. It etched Nate with goose bumps, then spun off a fantasy wherein Bob, no, wait, Leon, yeah, raped him, wait, while The Omen played live, no, wait, murdered him, wait, or–
4:08: Lake. Nothing else.
4:10: One fish.
4:11: Wish someone was here.
4:12: Just shot at a bird.
4:16: Some boy.
4:16: Watching me.
4:16: Oh, him.
4:18: Gonna write him some shit.
4:19: Hi, how’s it?
4:19: His lips said, Come back to my shack with me.
4:19: What for?
4:20: His lips said, For whatever I want.
4:21: He’s taking a leak on the tree.
4:23: He likes me.
4:24: He does.
4:25: Thinking about it.
– So you remember that spell thing?
– Not right now. I’m thinking.
– Come on.
– Fine. It worked. Whatever.
– Yep. Yesterday afternoon.
– Good for you. You got laid.
– Yeah, but listen. So I see Dagger down by the river. Turns out he can read people’s lips. So I say hey. He writes in that notebook of his that he’s bored, so I tell him my folks aren’t around, and we walk off together.
– Guy can’t control himself. I can see it in his eyes.
– So we go in the shack, and he’s looking around, writing things, and I’m doing crystal, and I’m telling him he’s cute in little roundabout ways, ‘cos he was. It was like being with you in some weird, friendly mood.
– Fuck you.
– So I say, you know, suck my dick. And I see him tense. He writes down that he’s scared, then, boom, he starts looking real weird, and you can see Satan’s taking him over, then, sure enough, he writes down that he’d really, really like to suck dick, with about ten exclamation marks.
– No. So I unzip my pants, and he does it. At first I think, Yeah, suck it, Nate. And it’s cooler than shit, like you said.
– Can’t we talk about this later? Seriously.
– But then this weird thing happens. I start thinking, Why am I doing this? Not like, This is dumb. More like, This boy deserves better. Or I deserve better, or both of us do. So I just kind of go with the flow after that, and the next thing I know, I’m holding him in my arms, and telling him I love him, and crying. I mean, I don’t know.
– And now I can’t stop thinking about him. I mean every fucking minute. Like right now, I’m thinking, Where is he? Is he okay? Does he like me?
– Leon, not right now, man.
– But it’s scary. I think I’m in love with him. We must have fucked up the spell.
– Fine. Look, I’ll fix it, okay? Just leave me alone. I need to think.
– About what?
About that house, Nate said. Bob sat directly across a big, tilted wooden table eating rabbit and various crisp, greenish fluff from the garden out back. The shack’s walls were covered with dusty oil paintings that easily could have been portraits of Nate, if it weren’t for the eyes.
I told you, Bob said, jabbing a fork at his food. It’s George’s house. But as far as you’re concerned, it’s art. It’s just a house painted black inside. Then he laid his free hand on Nate’s scrunched, dog-eared crotch, and made the ruckus it took to blunt the crazy fuck’s vibe. Now eat.
No, let me figure it out, Nate said. He shut his eyes, and activated every brain cell that the crystal meth hadn’t combusted. When they flaked, he prayed to Satan for one clink of insight. He never showed, so Nate tried Bob’s effect, which sort of gave him a great, evil thought. Hunh, wait.
– Fuck, man.
– I told you. Watch. Abracadabra.
– In a bucket. Exactly. Follow me, and bring Dagger. Stay close.
– No problem. Ow.
– Not that close. Just grab ahold of my t-shirt or something.
– Sorry. God, this is beyond dark.
– Yeah, do you feel that? There’s something horrible in here.
– You think it’s a hellmouth?
– That’s totally what I think. Okay. I’ll light a candle. Now, where is he? Right. See his feet?
– Make a circle of candles around them. I’ll light the wicks as you go.
– Should I take off his blindfold?
– Fuck, yeah. In a minute. There.
– Okay, hurry up. Brr.
– Satan, we call you. We offer you the sacrifice of this boy’s life. Take it and please stop fucking around with our minds.
– Shouldn’t we ask for something specific?
– What do you mean?
– Well, it’s a pretty great gift.
– Okay, I ask you, Satan, that in return for this offering you give me … okay, immortality. Live forever, no one can kill me, and that kind of stuff. What about you, Leon?
– Do I have to say it out loud? I’m kind of embarrassed.
– I don’t know. I guess not.
– I’ll think it. One second. Hold on. Okay, there. Shit.
– Jesus fucking Christ.
– Ow, ow.
– Do you feel that?
1:07: One of ’em’s killing me.
1:08: Oh, shit.
1:09: No, other one stopped him.
1:10: One of ’em’s screwing me.
1:11: That one hates me.
1:12: No, other one woke me up.
1:14: One of ’em’s taking a piss on my face.
1:14: Other one stopped him.
1:15: One of ’em’s strangling me.
1:20: Okay now.
1:23: Same one’s strangling me again.
1:24: Other one loves my ass.
1:24: Other one hates it.
1:29: One’s kicking my ass. One’s kissing my face.
1:30: Other one’s strangling me.
1:30: Just died, I think.
1:33: One of ’em’s hugging me anyway.
1:35: Other one hates me.
1:37: One of ’em’s mad at the other.
1:38: They’re fighting.
1:40: Can’t see ’em.
1:45: All alone.
When Bob got home from creating his firewood, Nate was bizarrely collapsed on the shack’s wobbling porch. I’m fucked, he said weakly. He tried to sit, but, getting maybe an inch off the slats, he flopped down again, feeling more octopussy than ever. That house, he said. It’s evil, and–
Shh, Bob said. He hoisted Nate over his shoulder, then stumbled inside, laying him, crack, on the big wooden table. Nate lifted arm, arm, leg, leg, so Bob could undress him. Turns out there was only a head wound too lite to be fatal, yet too reminiscent of George’s to leave him alone. Sorry.
Leon, Nate said. He– Then telltale hands grabbed, halved, and squashed his ass into that girlier, screwable one that faked George’s or some such. Go ahead, he mumbled. Maybe it’ll distract me. He meant from Leon, whom he’d only that very minute decided he loved. Ow.
Leon walked into the crosshatched room light of the general store and pulled out the gun. Then everything in front of him smudged. Fucking weird. Thanks to the crystal meth damage or something. Or that’s how he explained the effect. Like aftershocks in the eyes. Nothing he could do about it. So he held up the gun, stuck it way out in front of him. It got totally lost in the smudge. But the clerk saw it, didn’t he? Yeah, uh-huh. ‘Cos loose change sort of sprayed across the countertop. Greasy coins, a few dollar bills that disintegrated like lint when he grabbed them. Wiped the loot into his knapsack, missed one stupid nickel. Noticed it lying there. Shit. Don’t know why he even thought to retrieve it. But he was prying it up. Or attempting to. Greasy little thing. And it hit him. How the light had gone dead. Just like that, just as vague as that sounded. Not just gone out of the nickel. It was too fucking hard to describe. Shitty fantasies. Fucking crystal meth. Concentrate. Gone out of the venture, the love, sex, murder, Satanism, robberies, okay? Like that. So he handed his gun to the clerk, and said, Fuck it.
Leon stared at the glare, focusing on the spot where he’d last seen the sheriff’s impervious face before light ate it up, and kind of sunned his eyes, opening them wide, so their pupils could suck at the light, which had obviously done what it set out to do, since he’d just confessed to loving Satan, and helping Nate murder Dagger, and beating the shit out of Nate, ‘cos he no longer cared about prison and death row and that, seeing as how all that beautiful light had erased shit.
Nate lies by the road. It weaves off into the mountains out there. And it reeks. He’s been here for hours, partly obscured by the brush, awaiting the right car to pass, and a nice passerby. Someone in elegant clothes, whom he can fleece. God forgive him, he’s broke. The sun’s creepy, a hard piece of scalding red shit that has no consciousness of its own, so Nate can’t tell it anything real like, Go away. Everything should have a mind. So he could communicate with it. So he could say, Grass, get taller and cover me better. Or … School bus, stop here, right this second, and dump all your passengers out on the road so I can fuck, rob, or kill them. He wouldn’t mind if the bus said, No way, you’re too fucking lowly a jerk to waste time on. Or if the sun said, Oh go ahead and burn up, you asshole. Or if he could say to this road, Hey, can you glisten a little? ‘Cos that would look so unbelievable. And it would glisten for Nate, to be nice. Then it might say, Okay, now you walk on my surface awhile. And Nate would, even if it got him arrested. ‘Cos the road is so peaceful or something. Anyway, everything understanding everything. People’s guns saying, No, not him, asshole, kill him. And Nate’s pistol would swing itself around and do the shooting for him. And he’d just go, Well, hey, I didn’t make the decision. And his gun would go, Yeah, I made the fucking decision. And what could the cops do? Melt down the gun? Well, they could. And maybe that would be sad, ‘cos if the gun had a mind, Nate just might be attached to it. Shit, he can’t win. There’s no way the world’s ever gonna be totally perfect, unless nothing and no one had minds. If everyone just kind of lay there, only moving around when the wind kicked them up, or if the rain got too hard, or if there was a flood. Natural things. Nate would lie in the grass here for days, weeks, spacing out, then some storm would move him twenty feet that way, and his world would change, and he’d get to know new blades of grass and new dirt and new flies or whatever. He wouldn’t die, just change. Dry out, get wet, smell one way, smell another way. No boredom, no’ love, no fear, no being broke, no Leon, no … nothing. Maybe that’s what will happen at world’s end, after one of the millions of viruses sneaks in folks’ bodies, and no one, no matter how total a genius, can cure them. They’ll just … collapse where they are, and never see, feel, or do anything, and eventually everyone will lose sight of each other’s existence, and just become … what? Lumps of nature. In Nate’s case, a small, smelly thing lying out in some brush. A stupid thing drifting through history, no worse or better than trees or the bugs or his gun. Oh, he longs for that day. But until then he just loves this road.
©2000 by Dennis Cooper. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.