TRUTH SERUM by Bernard Cooper


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 A riveting, masterfully crafted memoir by essayist and novelist Cooper (A Year of Rhymes, 1993, etc.) that should find a wide readership beyond the gay market. Really a sequence of autobiographical essays, the book mostly concerns how Cooper's experience of being gay has affected him throughout his life. The life in question is superficially ordinary: Cooper grew up middle-class and vaguely Jewish in Los Angeles in the '60s, the only child of a divorce lawyer and a housewife; he went to college and eventually began teaching literature. Although chronologically ordered, the chapters sometimes leap decades to draw thematic connections and reinforce emotional epiphanies. At the end of a chapter about his childhood entitled ``Imitation of Life,'' for instance, Cooper recalls strolling West Hollywood's exuberant gay strip one night in his 25th year at the moment that, unbeknownst to him, his mother died in bed. Capturing perfectly the simultaneous tragedy and thrill of the moment, he concludes with heartbreaking grace: ``The night was warm, impending, alive, as if longing itself were an aspect of the air, like humidity or wind.'' Cooper's tales of youth, particularly one about disposing of a cache of pornography, can be very funny as well as psychologically astute. When he covers common markers of the gay experience, from adolescent crushes and coming out to therapy and the gym, he avoids clichÇs entirely; several splendid passages, such as one about an affair with a stand-up comic who gradually spiraled downward into mental illness, read like tragicomic fiction. Great set pieces abound, as when he and his widower father find themselves equally incapable of open discussion about their romantic lives. And Cooper's account of how AIDS has entered his life is as honest and unsparing as any yet written. Recalling his impressions with what feels like uncanny accuracy, Cooper at once inhabits his memories and reshapes them with detachment. This is exhilarating writing. (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 2nd, 1996
ISBN: 0-395-74539-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1996


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