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Set largely on the pages of a website where gay male escorts are reviewed by their clients, and told through the postings, emails, and conversations of several dozen unreliable narrators, The Sluts chronicles the evolution of one young escort’s date with a satisfied client into a metafiction of pornography, lies, half-truths, and myth. Explicit, shocking, comical, and displaying the author’s signature flair for blending structural complexity with direct, stylish, accessible language, The Sluts is Cooper’s most transgressive novel since Frisk, and one of his most innovative works of fiction to date.
I have been repeatedly hearing for the past few months about The Sluts and everyone who reads it, loves it. Written in an epistolary style, mostly through chat rooms and emails, The Sluts tells the story of Brad, a young prostitute, and Brian, a person who has a toxic relationship with him. But Brad might be an old ex-porn star, Brian might be a killer, and all of the reviews and posts on an online forum where the Brad and Brian saga unfolds might all be fake. This kind of feels like the movie Rashomon, where the same event is told in four different ways by four different eye witnesses. Except some of the narrators here might not have seen Brad or Brian at all. They might be making up parts of the story for amusement. Or not. The unreliable telling of the story of Brad makes the other characters who reads these web postings obsessed with him, either to have sex with him or kill him.
As the novel progresses, it grows darker and darker. The story of Brad, who eventually might not even be Brad, and Brian, who eventually might not even be Brian, becomes a story of violent sex, torture, mutilation, and death. The story spirals so far down into the pits of ugliness and ruthlessness that some of it becomes difficult to read. There are extreme horror books out there that are supposed to make you feel sick, and I have read and reviewed some of them, but nothing really matches The Sluts. The depravity, not only of the main participants, but also those around them, cheering them on and encouraging this poor behavior, makes me wonder if anyone has good intentions. In the end, the answer is no.
I read this book in one day. I could not put it down. Dennis Cooper uses simple strong language to pull up in and never let go. Even when he switches the formatting, from reviews on an escort site to emails sent back and forth, there is no letting up. This novel feels like we are trapped in a car and the brake lines have been cut and we are going faster and faster toward a brick wall, and Dennis Cooper is standing there next to the wall, shrugging his shoulders, saying, “There’s nothing I can do about it.” I honestly have never been terrified by a book like this book. If you are someone who enjoys the extreme and stories of how dangerous people can be, do not hesitate to read The Sluts.