The ever-transgressive novelist attempts a high-toned novel about rape, incest and cannibalism.
The narrator of the latest novel by the prolific and profane Cooper (Ugly Man, 2009, etc.) is a wealthy Frenchman who, as the story opens, is purchasing a chateau from a family with some deeply unsettling (if typically Cooper-esque) issues: The owner has been spying on his two sons’ sexually abusive relationship, a dysfunction that ultimately leads to one brother being murdered and the narrator abducting the other for culinary purposes. If that all sounds unappealing, there’s little in the way of moral resolution going forward. But Cooper isn’t simply going for shock value; he wants to investigate the behavioral and linguistic tics that accompany violence and madness. The “marbled swarm” of the title refers to the artful, brocaded language that the narrator’s father used—“trains of sticky sentences that round up thoughts as broadly as a vacuum.” That doesn’t make the catalogue of atrocities much easier to take, but it does clarify Cooper’s intentions, and in truth those sticky sentences have a black-humored charm; the reader is drawn into his twisted rationalizations even while he openly confesses he’s trying to recruit the reader to support his indefensible behavior. That grows difficult as the story becomes more perversely complicated. The narrator details his half-brother’s life among a sullen cult of manga-loving “Flatsos,” people who fantasize about being steamrollered flat, and drug abuse abounds, as do homes filled with plenty of metaphorically fraught secret passages. Cooper is careful to calibrate the story’s repulsive elements with more philosophical considerations of double lives and the nature of seduction, though the novel doesn’t so much resolve as exhaust itself.
A button-pushing portrait of sex and rage, told with Sade-esque fervor, but is it futile to ask for more coherence from a madman's laments?