And now for something different from the master of homosexual punk sadomasochism.
A teenaged boy does die in Cooper’s latest (after My Loose Thread, 2001, etc.), but this time he isn’t tortured, murdered or flayed. As this novel’s terse episodes gradually disclose, 17-year-old Tommy Baxter perished in the car crash that left his father Jim disabled, grief-stricken and guilty (for the two had gotten “stoned together” shortly before the accident). We learn this in early scenes set at Jim’s place of employment (which makes outré children’s costumes), then in scenes at the Baxter home, where Jim and his stunned wife Bette grow increasingly estranged and Jim is having an outdoor “monument” built for Tommy. The “building” under construction copies a mysterious house in a video game (itself copied from a Nintendo original) that Tommy had designed—with which Jim now occupies himself, imagining that he’s entering into the computerized landscape where his son’s mind had lived and where Tommy had exercised a control acknowledged by its digitally formed creatures (“. . . the consensus here,” one of the creatures informs Jim, “is that Tommy bear was God”). Cooper assembles this sorrowful story quite skillfully, showing Jim’s destroyed relationship with Bette, gathering the comments of friends and experts (a video analyst, a psychic) on both Tommy’s fantasies and Jim’s absorption in them, and high-lighting the “false world” of the video game: a quest whose object draws Jim ever closer to its revelatory center. The ingenuity of the narrative, though it’s slightly forced, is indeed compelling. Still, the best things here are Jim’s disclosures of his piercing, unending grief over the loss of the son he loved—and grew close to—too late (“I never thought there was much of me in him. I guess since he died there’s been a ton of him in me”).
A refreshing departure from the obsessive redundancy of its predecessors. Probably Cooper’s best yet.