November 2003

Veronica Bond

fiction

My Loose Thread by Dennis Cooper

I'm not quite sure what happens in Dennis Cooper's My Loose Thread. Then again, I'm not quite sure Larry, the book's protagonist, really knows either. In a scant more than one hundred pages, Cooper details Larry's engaging story -- a high school senior paid to kill a peer and retrieve the boy's notebook containing numerous pages on Larry and his classmates. Throughout, Larry tries to justify Rand's death, constantly reminding himself that he only punched the boy and no one could have known that the punch would have caused a fatal brain aneurysm. In fact, much of Larry's inner monologue is justification, not only for the boy's death, but for violent nature, his rampant homophobia, and the disturbing relationship he shares with Jim, his younger brother.

What, exactly, is inside that notebook is never revealed. The reader can only guess that it is a fountain of truths that these other students are unable to accept. It is clear, though, that in reading the notebook, each character is faced with its accusations, whether they decide to accept them, deny them, or in Larry's case, figure out what they truly mean. Like the notebook, Larry's relationship with Jim is never really defined, only hinted that it is somewhat sexual in nature. Both boys seek treatment from a psychotherapist, but Larry believes that Jim is the only one who is truly depressed, making them unable to love each other. Whatever the cause and circumstances surrounding the brothers, Larry isn't ready to truly explore their meanings. "I don't know if Rand was lying," Larry says, on his first reading of the notebook. "I don't know if Jim's just an innocent victim, or if Rand made that up. I don't know or else want to know if I raped Jim those times, or if Rand only saw it that way because he was gay and I'm not. I don't know if Jim feels suicidal without me, or if the boy wrote that down in his notebook because he was suicidal and thought everyone was like him. I don't know if the boy really wanted to die, or just feels depressed about everything for a minute. I know I should read the whole notebook again right this second. I just can't."

There is a coldness to Larry's voice, an ordinariness that makes Larry seem almost unaware of his violent actions. He recounts a night with Rand, saying: "He grabs his nose, and says not to hit him again, but I do. He tries to crawl away, so the blow clips the back of his head, and seems to knock him unconscious. But he could be pretending. I wouldn't put it past him." Cooper manages to create a character with just right mix of angst and depression, someone who is nearly unbelievable yet doesn't make the reader feel voyeuristic. It's not something I could have ever identified with, and I'm grateful for that, but I doubt there's a single person who has passed through the American high school system who doesn't know someone who could. Without preaching, Cooper's story serves as an active commentary on violence in American high schools, his message partly that it has become so common that it is nearly normal. Larry describes another student's bedroom, saying, "There's a poster of Harris and Kliebald, the two Columbine guys. Gilman made it in Photoshop, and put the words 'Coming Soon' across the top so his parents would think they're a rock band. They're his heroes, and that's part of my problem. Of all the guys who shot other guys at their high schools back then, they're so boring."

With the plot undefined and muddled, and the characters are less descriptions of people than they are blurred images of emotions and reactions, it's hard to know exactly what's happening in My Loose Thread. That confusion, though, is its greatest pull. It's like climbing a ladder into a dark attic -- each turned page is a step further into the obscure, not knowing what awaits at the top but desperately wanting to find out. With a somewhat fantastical ending, Cooper never really clears up Larry's picture, leaving his motivations and fate to the reader's imagination, but the author's conclusion isn't all that far-reaching. It's actually a bit frightening. I imagine Cooper may be considered disturbed for creating such a dark, unsettling character, and writing him so well into a tangled scheme, but the only disturbing thing is the fact that Larry so well fits into what is slowly becoming the typical adolescent American.

My Loose Thread by Dennis Cooper
Canongate Books Ltd.
ISBN: 1841954128
121 pages