Paul Bryant's Reviews > Frisk

Frisk by Dennis Cooper
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's review
Sep 25, 2007

did not like it
bookshelves: novels
Recommended for: homophobes

Frisk is the gay American Psycho, and like that horrendous novel it revels in grossly repellant violence, and just like American Psycho, you have to ask yourself what the point is. And it's hard to say. Ellis's novel was supposed to satirise the yuppie greed-is-good 1980s. Okay, it does. But the violence towards women in that book goes on for page after page after page. And after say 15 pages, the reader is justified in saying Okay Brett, I Get The Point Already!! But on and on the violence goes. And so I get to figure that what's happening is that Ellis actually LIKES writing this stuff. Otherwise why go on at such length? And why does he like it, all that describing women being chopped up and tortured in so many disgusting, amusing ways? Well, I have to leave that to each reader to answer, and likewise answer why the reader likes reading it as well, and why so many many readers (vastly male it seems from the Amazon reviews) think American Psycho ROCKS! So, Dennis Cooper writes about gay sadomasochistic sex and murder. And in this book, plenty of coprophagy. The style he uses to do this is uniformly dull, lifeless, enervated, flat, affectless. It's... oh, I dunno, whatever. One critic describes it as "cool, immaculate prose [which] manages to convey intense romanticism alongside the macabre temptations of taboo." Yeah, right. Does that make it good, this breaking of taboos? Dennis Cooper does step out of his cool, immaculate style and gets quite excitable when he gets to the part about carving up teenaged boys. But then he lapses into a kind of boredom again. And the Los Angeles Times Book Review critic says in the blurb on the front "destined to classic status". And I say, these critics are degenerates. This book serves no purpose, except maybe, you know, if people like to read about torturing boys to death. I mean, some people might. So to them, it's good. Might even be a classic, I guess. Do I have the right to say that people shouldn't get their fun reading about pain and death and sadistic torture for page after page?
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Comments (showing 1-24)

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Emily You clearly didn't understand this book at all, are you even aware that it's part of a larger cycle? Damn.

message 23: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant yes I was. What is your point?

Emily My point is that you seem to have completely missed the point of this book and instead you have focused on the violence, your review shows a lack of understanding of the context and of the entire George Miles Cycle. It's your opinion and you're entitled to it, but the ideas the book was trying to address seem to have surpassed you.

message 21: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant That may be but if a book is issued as a novel it should be able to stand alone and be understood without the others in the series, like in Proust. The book appeared to me to be about men delighting in child abuse, as did the other one by Dennis Cooper which I read. A lot of what's called transgressive literature (and movies) seem to concern themselves with grim portrayals of the infliction of suffering on human beings.


Have a look at this, it might help you to understand what the books/cycle are/is about.

message 19: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Well, not really :

Combining acts of sex and acts of violence into one act exacerbates the problem of representation, but something very important is happening in that supercharged act, something that’s very complex. I think most people either don’t want to think about it, or they want it to be represented in a moralistic, condemning way or as a thrill ride à la horror movies. I don’t want to do either, and that’s the problem

Perhaps I'm slow, but nowhere in the interview does he explain what he actually does want to do with his combining of sex and violence against young boys. So, you are right, i don't get it at all. It just looks like horrible cruelty to me. Which I'm against! And i bet you are too.

Vandad Have you read American Psycho? Or are you pulling a Gloria Steinem here? Because violence in AP, gruesome as it is, is less than ten per cent of the book's content; somewhere between 25 and 40 pages in total, depending on your edition. And it is not even fictional. BEE couldn't write it transgressionally enough, and so got his friend in the Bureau to mail him serial killer files. Everything in the book is just cut and paste from something that real people did to others. (The same killers that he namedrops before each act to be precise). You don't have to like either that or Frisk. But they are both stylistically and thematically well-thought out and well executed novels.

message 17: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Oh yes - and I have had some remarkable discussions about it too -


But I have a question - where do you get your info that BEE got his gruesome descriptions from a friend in the FBI ? I've heard that more than once but never knew if it came from an interview with BEE or somewhere else.

Vandad Good. I read your reviews and you make some very valid points - even though I don't agree with all of them, I see where you're coming from. I'm not going to delve into another discussion on the novel, because I have (and I am sure you have, too) done so extensively in the past. But I will say that AP cannot be blamed for being misunderstood by misogynist fans; just like Horton Hears a Who can't be blamed for being touted as anti-abortionist by pro-lifers.

To answer your question, I did my master thesis in American Lit. partly on American Psycho (you were right, they DO teach it in universities now. Sorry.), and through some thorough research I was able to find a tape of an interview BEE did circa 1994, some PBS-style talk show, where he tells the interviewer about the FBI files he got his hands on. Obviously, this could be bullshit; the man was at that point a junky and he is a self-proclaimed serial liar. But, and that point stands, most of his descriptions of murder (especially those that involve women) can be traced back to acts performed by serial killers that PB mentions in the novel; Ed Gein especially. I don't know if these acts were known to the public at the time he wrote the novel. Some details must have been known, but there are some very precise descriptions that match those of Gein's alleged murders.

I wish I had a source online to give you, but you'll have to take my word for it. I only had the tape on VHS, borrowed through some serious red tape via my school.

PS. I am in total agreement with you about Imperial Bedrooms, though. The violence at the end there is completely gratuitous and unnecessary (So, by the way, is most of the novel). The violence in AP, I would argue, is not.

message 15: by Paul (last edited Nov 05, 2012 12:37PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant I think this point should be pursued a little bit as it's the difference between BEE making up the violence or BEE cut&pasting the violence, and in my mind, there's a big difference.

What you say makes perfect sense on one level - the descriptions of music, records and sex surely come from various media including porn, of course. So it makes sense to me to think of vast amounts of AP as a giant cut & paste exercise.

Ed Gein (has ever a murderer been so used by film makers and novelists?) appears to have only killed one victim, by shooting. All the gruesome chopping up happened to the victim post mortem, and to the various corpses he disinterred - he was a necrophile of some kind. So BEE transferred his activities onto live women.

OTOH I'm inclined to think that the getting-the-violence-from-my-FBI-source was a cover-up. He didn't want to admit he sat down and thought all that stuff up!

Vandad Maybe Jack The Ripper, but yeah, authors and film makers do love them som Gein mythology.

One of the main points of my thesis was that AP for the most part seems to consist of a cut'n'paste from several sources; catalogues (clothes), music press (Genesis, etc), porn (as you point out) and forensic files from sensational crimes. The thing is, everything else is so obviously impressionistic, a blurry version of life amongst yuppies in the 80s, that it seems odd to me that he would spend a lot of time inventing the violent scenes when everything else is cut&paste.

To me, the form of the novel is as much satire as the content. The catalogue-speak that permeats the novel is as transgressive to me as the violence. The constant repetitions, the absolute boredom.

I don't believe Ellis to be the type of guy that would duck away from scandal like that; especially not back then. He might have lied, but that would be for the sake of lying, not to appease critics. Or, he doesn't seem like someone who shies away from criticism of his work (at least not on Twitter).

message 13: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Here's a comparison, I wonder what you make of it - BEE and salman Rushdie. Why? Because they both wrote books which caused a giant controversy and they both appeared amazed and shocked by the controversy. They had no idea it was coming.

One of my main points about AP - the controversial one which gets people's goat! - is that BEE - followed by his readers - strayed into misogynism without realising it. He thought with is mind that as he was typing all those hacking up scenes that this was the purest satire. It may well have been, but it was also the purest misogynism.

Vandad One could argue that BEE simply fell in the snare known as Poe's Law:

But, yeah, I get where you're coming from. It is almost indistinguishable from pure misogyny, at least out of context.

As for the comparison to Rushdie, it is an interesting one, though in Rushdie's case, there was more reason to be amazed. The Satanic Verses is not a very inflammatory book, even by Ruhollah Khomeini's standards (He actually wrote quite a bit of poetry himself that was far cruder and more, shall we say, controversial than the Rushdie novel). That was more of a power play from the Islamists in Iran, and a (sorry to say) successful one at that.

message 11: by Paul (last edited Nov 05, 2012 02:47PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant yes, Poe's Law is exactly right. And also yes, Iranian religious politics created the Satanic verses debacle, but Rushdie never saw that coming as Ellis never saw his first publisher pulping the book and the hate campaign. They were both patrician figures appalled by their idiotic critics who couldn't appreciate their brilliance.

If you're interested, my argument about modern attitudes to violence against women continues here

message 10: by mark (last edited Feb 13, 2013 12:24AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

mark monday the movie version has the distinction of being the only Opening Night film of the venerable San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival to be booed. a lot of passionate and very angry booing, i remember it clearly and i remember not being surprised.

that said, i loved the movie.

and that said, i intensely disliked this book. pretentious and repulsive and boring. i also disliked Jerk. however i could be convinced to read The Fifteen Worst Russian Gay Porn Web Sites.

i actually do agree with that description of his "cool, immaculate style". i'd also add "intelligent". he knows how to write and his prose can be compellingly off-kilter. but to what end?

message 9: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant well, indeed, to what end... I get the impression that his acolytes get quite annoyed when he gets any kind of criticism - "but Dennis always writes about torturing young boys, didn't you know? please, take your middlebrow morality somewhere else, of course he's a genius". At least BEE never gets called a genius.

David M Hm, but you loved Last Exit to Brooklyn? That book is plenty violent and disgusting, and filled with negative portraits of gay men. For what it's worth I really liked both books... Anyway, I don't think Cooper needs any special justification to write about dismembering teenage boys; I believe him when he says he was basically born with that obsession, that he's had it as long as he can remember. It's not uncommon for people to have obsessive sexual fantasies.

message 7: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant It's a good point but Last Exit has a terrific style which DC doesn't have, but possibly more germane is that Last Exit appears to have a fierce moral perspective and with DC he would not give a rat's ass for your bourgeois morality, he seems to find the entire idea of right and wrong quaint. So it's kinda like he condones child abuse. Or maybe, he doesn't but his book does.

David M Well, we can disagree. I really don't think Frisk condones child abuse. It's true that Dennis Cooper is incredibly turned on & obsessed with these horrible scenes of murder and mutilation; that's just sort of who he is, his lot in life. It doesn't follow that he thinks these scenes should literally be enacted. A lot of people go around carrying violent impulses & dark thoughts they never act out. Cooper has said he wrote Frisk as an argument with himself about whether he really needed to do these things he'd always fantasized about doing. The answer, I thought, was a pretty resounding NO. The ending makes it clear the Dennis character hasn't actually hurt anyone; the epilogue suggests the snuff photo that haunted him so long is really just a corny fake. I value Frisk as a meditation on the relationship between fantasy and reality.

I would agree, on a sentence-by-sentence level it's not well written. Even though it's become a quasi-classic, the prose style still makes it feel like you're reading a photocopied zine.

mark monday It doesn't follow that he thinks these scenes should literally be enacted.

completely agree.

honestly Paul, that was a bizarre and rather repugnant fake-moralistic assertion. and this is coming from a person who is no fan of Cooper.

message 4: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Sorry Mark, I don't follow (it's early here) - are we saying that Frisk doesn't titillate the reader with child abuse, or are we saying that it does but that's cool?

mark monday Paul, the main thing that comes to mind right now is that I wish you would have a bit more responsibility before casually accusing someone of condoning child abuse. because that's a pretty gross accusation. accusing someone of condoning child abuse is not just very very far from a light accusation, it's also a disgusting symptom of a modern ailment. and it pisses me off that you appear to have not realized that before typing that phrase. or maybe you did, but you just don't care - which would actually piss me off even more.

sorry that I didn't make this clear in my last post. I don't make a habit of criticizing Goodreads friends (in fact I think this is the first time I've done it) but that comment really triggered me.

but honestly, who cares if I'm pissed off or triggered. I'm just one opinion. it's not like we know each other outside of being Goodreads friends. although in general I do respect and enjoy your opinions and reviews, and feel like I have come to know you as a person through those reviews and your comments and our many conversations. which is possibly why I was particularly disappointed and angered by that comment.

to answer your question: NO, I don't think Frisk titillates the reader with child abuse. Cooper is a cold-blooded, dispassionate, non-titillating writer. he is exploring his personal obsessions. you (and I) may find his obsessions to be revolting, but for chrissakes I have certainly never felt that he is trying to turn his readers on. he does not write erotica; his books are internal not external in nature and I doubt he even has the reader in mind when he writes them.

message 2: by Paul (last edited Jul 15, 2015 11:31AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant maybe you remember those very long discussions about American Psycho some years back? I was accusing the author there of misogyny and many people thought I'd lost my marbles then. I also accused The Story of O similarly. I do think that these three works - Frisk, AP & Story of O - are in a similar moral quandary. I do believe words are important & I bet you do too; & I believe authors have a moral responsibility & I bet you do too. I believe in not putting weapons into the hands of one's enemies & I think these works do that. So there I have to part company with those who think that authors should have absolute freedom. All this sounds like rather pompous, I know.

But my accusations against Frisk are not nuanced enough, I agree. What about the following - Frisk does not in any way condone child abuse but it does condone the public display of violent fantasies of abuse of children. Do you think that is a reasonable statement?

mark monday I remember those long discussions quite clearly. possibly because I agree with your perspective that AP is clearly a misogynistic book - not just a book about a misogynist but a book that was written by an author who has serious issues with women. similarly, I think Cooper has serious issues with gay sexuality (and possibly his own sexuality).

that is still a very far leap from saying that Cooper condones child abuse. there is a big difference between "having issues with gay sexuality" and "condoning child abuse" ... for you to make that leap is really troubling.

both you and I are, for some reason or another, attracted to "transgressive" (I hate that word and I wish I could think of another one to use in its place) books and movies that deal with sexuality and violence. we read and watch such things more regularly than many other people. right? that's undeniable; just look at the books we've reviewed and the movies we've discussed. but does that mean you and I have an interest in violating or violently victimizing another person? or that we condone such behaviors? no it does not. and yet that is what you casually accused Cooper of doing in your post above.

and yes, of course I believe words are important. I also believe that authors have a level of moral responsibility, which is an opinion that you and I share, and have often been criticized about in our respective review threads. but I do think authors should have absolute freedom - just as I should have absolute freedom in criticizing those authors and their works.

however there is a large gap between critically judging an author and their works and their obsessions... and casually accusing them of condoning morally reprehensible acts. I think you crossed that gap with your comment. it upset me!

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