Erotic, whimsical, profound—almost all of Cooke’s stories illustrate what Matthew Arnold terms “the eternal note of sadness.”
In “Francis Bacon,” the narrator hangs out at “Bob’s House...the largest private residence in Manhattan,” an obvious allusion to Bob Guccione, founder of Penthouse magazine. He’s hired the narrator to shape up the quasi-erotic ramblings of the feckless Laya, who breathlessly serves as the “grand prize” in a contest Bob dreams up. “Aesthetic Discipline” introduces us to Karim Brazir, the narrator’s “alluring, sexy, [and] passionate” lover, who takes her to visit his home in Hell’s Point, Long Island, for a weekend or two. There, she comes up against the sensibility of Karim’s ultramodernist parents, who inhabit a house with black bathrooms and minimalist furniture. Although the relationship with Karim doesn’t last, the narrator is in equal parts fascinated by and empathetic with Karim’s father, who’s suffering from a terminal illness. One of the best stories in the collection is the eponymous “Amor and Psycho,” which features a pair of memorable adolescents. Psyche, who renames herself “Psycho” during her freshman year of high school, is a poet who freestyles brilliantly, though she readily admits her friend Harald Bugman is even “more whacked and brilliant” than she is. After she accidentally runs over a baby in her car, Psycho does community service, which she loves, since “corrupting youth was the best and purest thing in her life.” The second part of the story features Georgie, the best friend of Harald’s mother, Babe, who’s trying to hang onto a life in which she deals with cancer and chemo.
Cooke writes with passion, empathy and considerable humor as her characters face life-changing issues of divorce, illness, self-destruction and impending death.