Bottoms Up

Andrew Hultkrans on Dennis Cooper at the Accompanied Library

New York

Left: Brooke Geahan and Kimberly D. Spell. Right: Dennis Cooper and Void Books publisher Alex Kasavin. (Photos: Alexis Scherl)

A word about readings: Unless the author is a close friend, I avoid them like the Meatpacking district on Saturday night. The tawdry, awkward venues, the injurious scholastic chairs, the fake solemnity, the nervous laughs, the tucked-in torpor of the audience: The whole scene generally strikes me as less a promotion of the writer’s work than a cheap dramatization of the debasement of literature in contemporary America, a Spinal Tap for poets, if you will. Which is why it was quite a bit more than a “refreshing surprise” to attend a reading by LA’s post-punk Jean Genet, Dennis Cooper, at the new Accompanied Library inside the National Arts Club, Gramercy Park.

The Accompanied Library, “an intimate, not-for-profit private library and writers’ club,” is an essential venture that seems like it should have always existed in New York’s literary landscape. That it hasn’t existed, at least in recent years, highlights both the beggarly status of literature in the city and the pluck of the library’s founders, Brooke Geahan and Iris Brooks. They are young writers who met at Simon’s Rock College of Bard (an “accelerated” program whose precociously artsy students matriculate before graduating from high school) and moved to New York after graduation. Geahan and Brooks noted the lack of a downtown writers’ library with the old-world feel of well-funded uptown institutions like the Municipal Art Society. Canvassing for an appropriate space, they found a home upstairs at the turn-of-the-century Tilden Mansion, location of the venerable if slightly blue-haired National Arts Club. Geahan and Brooks tastefully renovated the sixth-floor apartment/artist’s studio themselves, and the result is like stepping into another time, a Jazz Age salon, say, complete with art-deco bar, high tea, and vintage books lining the shelves of the spectacular double-height living room.

Another word about readings: Alcohol. It’s rare enough to hear a reading in the plush comfort of a robber baron’s den; it’s another thing entirely to hear said reading in said den after an hour-and-a-half of complimentary beer and wine in the type of genteel, festive atmosphere that perished sometime well before the Giuliani administration. I had the feeling of being at a genuinely fun private party for Cooper, where you could chat with the author, hobnob with a criminally attractive, unusually intelligent group of friends and strangers, and drink, drink, drink. By the time Cooper took the rostrum, the warm glow radiating from the crowd was palpable. Couches and chairs filled quickly, resulting in a standing-room-only audience.

Cooper read from his new novel, The Sluts, published by Void Books, a small press run by Alex Kasavin in Williamburg, Brooklyn. Kasavin, an old-school printer by trade, started Void in 2004 to publish “transgressive” authors like Peter Sotos and Cooper in high-quality, limited-edition hardbacks. With creepy-cute illustrations by Todd James, The Sluts is an impressively sturdy tome, its post-digital sans-serif font off-putting only until you realize that the book belongs to the fledgling genre of e-pistolary fiction—novels told entirely through e-mail chains or BBS postings. In this case, the context is a Southern California gay website where visitors post reviews of their trysts with area hustlers. The subject of all the posts, we find, is “Brad,” a possibly underage, possibly nonexistent, possibly murdered boy of angelic face and God-given ass.

The constraints of the BBS-posting format are apparently good for Cooper. As the many full-throated laughs from the Accompanied audience confirmed, The Sluts is his funniest work to date. By the end of the reading (Cooper started at the beginning of the novel), the narrative began to turn toward the dark—at times, exceedingly dark—side of gay desire that has been Cooper’s stock in trade for most of his career. Yet the writing retained all of his customary strengths—uncensored imagination, unflinching observation, the strange current of emotional warmth behind the nihilistic tableaux. Before the reading, Cooper claimed that The Sluts was “my last spurt of this stuff,” meaning the Gay Guignol of his “George Miles Cycle.” But one hopes that it isn’t, just as one hopes that the Accompanied Library lives long enough to spawn its own Vicious Circle.

Left and right: The crowd at the Accompanied Library.

Left: Ira Silverberg (center, in dark jacket) and Alex Mar (right, in black dress). Right: Dennis Cooper.