Dennis Cooper’s CloserSeptember 27, 2007
Dennis Cooper’s writing is a landscape littered with the bodies of damaged and mutilated boys, both literally and metaphorically. His work is populated with men crumbling with lived societal trauma. The stories are bleak, but elegantly written, grasping towards the sublime. Characters strive for, but are unable to truly find human connection, as they dismantle themselves and each other in the process. Closer is the first in a series of five novels in the George Miles cycle that center around a character by that name.
In the first chapter the reader is introduced to John who is an eighteen-year-old student interested in punk music. His drawing teacher takes interest in his work and praises him by comparing his drawings to “brilliant police sketches” (4). Encouraged by the praise and seeking to bolster his punk identity, John becomes an artist, doing drawings of classmates. John invites younger sophomore George Miles over under the auspices of drawing his portrait, but proceeds to have sex with him instead.
Much of George’s allure to characters like John is based on their perceiving him as some sort of ideal. He is an absently blank canvas to project their desires onto. George is an attractive, but emotionally unavailable subject. His mom is dieing and as a response he remains in a drug-addled haze, utterly detached and unable to interact with those around him or express his emotional state. John uses George as a model and becomes mildly infatuated with him in a detached way before soon discarding him. “John studied the portrait, then George’s face, then the portrait, and made the eyes like caves. It looked more like an ad for a charity” (6). John is attracted to the inner shambles he perceives in this outwardly normal and attractive classmate.
Early on John prepares a talk for a school assembly under his drawing teacher’s urgings that explains his artistic intentions to the class.
“What you seem to like about my drawings is how they reveal the dark underside, or whatever it’s called, of people you wouldn’t think were particularly screwed up. But you should know the real goal of my work is a Dorian Gray type thing. I make you look awful, and I start to look really good. . . .” (5).
Through the metaphor of Dorian Gray the novel can be read as a reworking of Wilde’s classic theme in which a portrait of beautiful and youthful Dorian Gray becomes the depository of all the character’s vile and cruel attributes; the physical representation of a base life of vice. In Closer George Miles functions as this scarred and disfigured canvas. George takes the place of the portrait that bears the evidence of the cruelty enacted on it by those around him. He systematically becomes the interest of people who projects their desires and expectations onto his character. He represents a different sort of detached ideal for each. For some he is an enigma, while others are drawn to his physical beauty or youth. Each leaves their imprint on George as he increasingly disconnects from the world around him.
Chapters are named after characters that have encounters with George and are written from that character’s perspective. Two chapters are named after George and are from his perspective. The way the novel is constructed, each encounter leaves George Miles with the psychological and physical burden of the encounter culminating in his near death murder by Jimmy who realizes at the last minute that George hadn’t come to him to be killed. Jimmy spares George mid-killing after mutilating and dissecting his ass and spine. By the end George is emotionally comatose and mangled; the carrier of the world’s debauchery and degradation. His youth and relative innocence are scarred emblems much like Dorian Gray’s portrait. He is a physical manifestation of youth and physical beauty mangled by the ugliness of actions.