With a title like The Sluts, you don’t expect a particularly classy affair, but you also don’t expect anything quite as reprehensible as what’s found in the pages of this Dennis Cooper novel.
What I expected when I picked this up in the bookstore was a simple, trashy read. I’ll admit it’s my own fault that I went in with a wrong idea of what it was going to be about, but I found it incredibly unpleasant.
The Sluts is mostly told from the pages of a website where gay hustlers are reviewed by their clients. The book opens with a review of Brad, a young boyish hustler who was quite wild and unpredictable both in the sack and in general manner.
From there, several contradictory reviews arise, and a man calling himself Brian intervenes, claiming that Brad is his property essentially, a sexual slave to be used only as Brian wishes. Then other men submit reviews contradicting Brian’s claims, and before too long this website (and apparently the entire gay quotient of the internet) is aflame with interest into the dramatic saga of Brad and Brian.
And then other hustlers start getting murdered. And then the men on the websites start detailing their fantasies involving murder, being murdered, and most of all, murdering Brad…
The Sluts wants to be a disturbing insight into the nature and malleability of truth in a space like the internet, it also wants to disturb through traditional methods of violence and aberrant sexuality. The problem here is that it’s not a very compelling book. It’s incredibly simple to read (three hours, max) and easy to follow on the basic gist of the plot, but there’s no real point or argument that the book is making.
It’s very graphic, and if graphic depictions of sex bother you avoid it. It’s a lurid, menacing little book that so quickly becomes about the utter destruction of the hustlers at the hands of depraved men that it’s a miracle it doesn’t feel like a homophobic tract.
Cooper does capture the immaturity of online communities and the gullibility of do-gooders well. He also captures the tone and perversity of his perverse characters well. But without anything more interesting to do with that, the book is kind of pointless.
If you want a quick and easy read, or if you want a lurid and ludicrous story about snuff films set in the sleazy world of male prostitution, this is exactly the book you’re looking for. Even if you’re not, it’s not going to be the worst thing you’ve ever read. But if you want a challenging book about grey morality with drug-fuelled disturbing sexual overtones and insights into the deplorable depths of humanity, get a copy of Dead Europe instead – at least when you finish reading that, you feel it was worthwhile reading.