The Marbled Swarm: A Novel

The Marbled Swarm: A Novel

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by Dennis Cooper

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The Marbled Swarm is Dennis Cooper’s most haunting work to date. In secret passageways, hidden rooms, and the troubled mind of our narrator, a mystery perpetually takes shape—and the most compelling clue to its final nature is “the marbled swarm” itself, a complex amalgam of language passed down from father to son.

Cooper ensnares


The Marbled Swarm is Dennis Cooper’s most haunting work to date. In secret passageways, hidden rooms, and the troubled mind of our narrator, a mystery perpetually takes shape—and the most compelling clue to its final nature is “the marbled swarm” itself, a complex amalgam of language passed down from father to son.

Cooper ensnares the reader in a world of appearances, where the trappings of high art, old money, and haute cuisine obscure an unspeakable system of coercion and surrender. And as the narrator stalks an elusive truth, traveling from the French countryside to Paris and back again, the reader will be seduced by a voice only Dennis Cooper could create.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Full of peepholes—bodily and architectural—Cooper’s twisting, twisted novel, set in contemporary Parisian lofts and French countryside chateaus, brings to mind the fractured narratives of Alain Robbe-Grillet and the sexual intensity of the Marquis de Sade. The nameless, untrustworthy narrator travels from Paris to northern France to view a villa for sale, which seems above board until the talk turns from real estate to the current owner’s recently deceased son and the narrator’s intense interest in the son that remains, 14-year-old Serge. The narrator dips and weaves in and out of the present as he talks around his designs on Serge, which go beyond rough sex into the entirely unexpected realm of murder and cannibalism. When the narrator recounts the “marbled swarm,” a loquaciously bombastic manner of speaking learned from his father, the act of storytelling itself is called into question. In addition to double-speak and red herrings, the narrator also inherited a penchant for secret passageways, spying, and cruelty. Almost every physical structure has hidden catacombs within, mirroring the narrative layers, the stories within stories. The sex—more often rape—is graphic and Cooper doesn’t always justify the shock. (Nov.)
Vanity Fair
“A mesmerizing, labyrinthine tour through an especially hellish father-son relationship.”
New Yorker
“Provocative...Cooper’s interest in the darkest corners of the human experience...has not dimmed with age. The novel’s contradictory narratives intentionally echo the secret passageways in which the narrator’s predatory activities take place, creating a baroque, voyeuristic effect.
OUT Magazine
The Marbled Swarm is concerned as much with language as it is with relationships and power….His fantastical story of everyday cannibalism is told in such finely chiseled yet disorienting prose that you suspect you’re being led into a maze.”
Paste Magazine
“Cooper’s status as an underground renegade of experimental fiction doesn’t reduce his talent or the brilliance of his dark views. He is a passionately humane writer. We need his voice now more than ever.”
The Coffin Factory
“… lies somewhere in between Lolita and Dracula, mixing the gothic terror and disturbing subject of both, within a contemporary bi-sexual, skinny jeaned, iPhone-totting environment, and a much further push of the envelope. … a novel that must be read.”
Washington Independent Book Review
“In The Marbled Swarm, Cooper has coupled a clever intellectual romp with stomach-turning brutality and quite a bit of humor.”
Nylon Magazine
“…deftly executed plot surgery…”
“The most personal, and honest [of Cooper’s] daring, perplexing books.”
“Readers unfamiliar with transgressive fiction would do well to brace themselves for what will either be the shock of the unrelentingly different or, perhaps, the shock of recognizing writing that speaks to their souls.”
“… language every bit as thrilling, rapt, and brain-waking as we could want from one of our living legends…”
“Patient and careful readers will be rewarded for their diligent attention to the text with a controversial, dazzling and intelligent work of literature.”
The Marbled Swarm cumulates mystery, desire, and connections as it appears to shed mystery, desire, and connections; magic. Or sleight of hand....This book is great art.”
Justin Taylor
The Marbled Swarm is a mindbending masterpiece from one of my all-time favorite writers. It is vivid, slippery, ferocious, and rich with secrets. Nobody else could have written this novel and nothing else like it exists.”
Patrick deWitt
“Disquieting, humbling, and sadly beautiful in the way only Dennis Cooper can be, The Marbled Swarm is a mystifying and courageous novel that represents his finest work to date.”
Gary Lutz
“This gorgeously warped brain-bender of a novel… reimagines the family romance (fathers-and-sons side only) in perfections of language that will startle and seduce you anew on every page. The Marbled Swarm is Dennis Cooper’s most genius-haunted achievement.”
Barnes & Noble's "Unabashedly Bookish"
“There is a brutal honesty to this novel, a brutal wisdom.”
Library Journal
"My marbled swarm is more of an atonal, fussy bleat," explains the narrator. He's not to be trusted in this mystery of dominance, submission, and bizarre allegiances. Author, editor, and playwright Cooper (e.g., the five-novel "George Miles Cycle") continues his literary transgressions with this tale of fathers, sons, and numerous depravities set in Paris and the French countryside. The story starts with a suicide and quickly runs even further amok in a male homosexual "emasculation of reality," told in a style that's a grandiloquent come-on, the unabashed subject matter following the more outré passages of Jean Genet and William S. Burroughs. Early on we're warned, "You'll notice I tell stories in a high-strung, flighty, tonally unstable rant, no sooner flashing you a secret entrance than pretending no such route exists, twittering when there's bad news, and polishing my outbursts." Well, yes. What results is palpable and dizzying, but will the reader make it through the snarky, comma-enjambed passages? VERDICT Decadent readers bored with de Sade's imaginings can use Cooper's book to fill the modern void.—Travis Fristoe, Alachua Cty. Lib. Dist., FL
Kirkus Reviews
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?

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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P.S. Series
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5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Marbled Swan

A Novel
By Dennis Cooper

Harper Perennial

Copyright © 2011 Dennis Cooper
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061715631

Chapter One

Chateau Étage, as a corroded iron plaque
leads the unsuspecting to believe, lies a multi-hour car ride
from my loft in the Marais and near a small town whose
hyphenated name I keep forgetting.
The wooded property is vast enough to hold a hill of slight
historical value and the makings of a river where the older son
of the chateau's prior owner appears to have slipped, bashed
his inebriated head against a rock, and drowned.
It was seeing this boy's picture and obituary in Le Monde
that led me to case the home originally, and, according to a
subtext, an alleged sighting of his ghost that caused his super-
superstitious parents to put it on the market.
I asked a real estate agent who'd wielded acreage for my
quote-unquote father to arrange a walk through, more out of
a morbid seeming curiosity than any real interest in acquiring
the location at that point.
I don't foresee a need to be explicit about the ping this
death left in my irreparable imagination, as the consequences
will speak out of turn and continually for themselves.
I'm at a loss to say why certain deaths strike me as secretive
while others not so much. Granted, his full-fledged Emo look—
which, if you were inattentive at the time, turned depressive
youths into prêt-à-porter's backseat drivers for a season—left
his hole in the world more romantic than most. Still, I suppose
it could be argued that every new hole leads to anywhere else.
I will say for what it's worth that had he been singled out
as a,oh, doer of good deeds, I might have sighed at his
meaningless plot and turned the page.
Like every chateau I've had occasion to visit, mine appears
to have been built exclusively to turn the heads and mist the
eyes of peons driving to and fro along the corresponding road.
Given the building's excessive age, no doubt its obscure architect
had horse riders and peasants trudging on foot as his intended
targets, but the bombastic effect has proven timeless.
I remember quite well how my tinier mind mistook the
chateau dotting France's far-flung hilltops for concise Disney
castles when, in tragic fact, they're just giant farmhouses with
a Napoleon complex. True to form, driving down my chateau's
muddy driveway can cause one's car to seem a frilly carriage,
but merely cracking the front door leaves you moping behind
its magician's back.
Since my visit occurred on a weekend, the dead boy's
father, Jean-Paul, mother, Claire, and younger brother, Serge,
happened to be facets of the tour.
Jean-Paul found me suspicious until a bank statement
closed the gap between my inheritance and the childish
looking features I control. I've learned to carry said documents
almost everywhere I go, since I'm told my vibe suggests
a cosmopolitan sixteen rather than the twenty-two-year-old
worrywart I am.
Once the credentials were perused and returned, my
politely nuanced interest in their loss combined with their
addiction to all things him-related toppled a small bookcase's
worth of gossip that would be tedium incarnate at this stage.
The family encouraged me to stroll, albeit supervised,
about his former bedroom, a neat freak's cubicle containing
nothing more of note than an antique desk whose drawers I
lacked a good excuse to open and a short shelf full of DVDs
and novels so anonymously trendy they're too out of print to
even bother listing.
Jean-Paul singled out the wall where his son's paranormal
image had been spotted distinctly if blurrily in the paint, and
although I squinted, it remained a dead blank for the duration
of my initial peek and show of concentration.
Before I imbed you in my story too repletely, let me single
out Claire, the wife and mother, who might have suited my
proclivity to look straight through almost any women I
encounter had she not seemed more realistically a sister to
young Serge, whose height she barely eclipsed.
This mismatch caused me to experience a most unsightly
daydream in which a beet-red, hyperventilating infant gave
birth to another crimson, screaming infant.
The aforementioned Serge, a childish-looking fourteen-
year-old and hardcore Emo like his sibling, tastelessly offered
to show me where the unfortunate's body had been found. I
agreed before his parents could reprimand him, both for reasons
that must be obvious by now and because, if I may be blunt,
the boy was literally his brother's twin after a judicious edit.
Walking to the crime scene, I feigned admiration for how
subtly his family or their gardeners had compromised their
parcel of France's magnitude. They'd teased out a pleasant
nature trail while wisely sparing their grounds the aesthetic
lock and key that might have buried it in Frisbees and croquet
While I bored my fellow hiker into an advantageous day
dream, my eyes were busy with his more painstaking head
of hair and outfit. With each footnote I ascribed to them, the
more eerily he epitomized one of my "types," as those who
shrink-wrap their opinions in set phrases like to put it. I have
four, although, for the sake of brevity, I prefer to call them hot
spots, each with its own set of qualifiers and subcategories, and
they will queue up here later.
However, lest the term "type" mislead you, let me add
that were I gay and not the creep to whom you'll turn the
other cheek soon enough, I might have preferred, in Serge's
case, someone tall enough that I could jab my tongue into his
mouth without appearing unsightly.
Serge favored vintage black Slimane jeans, so tight in the
legs that his near robotic gait would have made Pinocchio a
track star. His faux old-fashioned choice of a white and gauzy
sweater flecked with Christmas trees was geared to mismatch
with a visible black T-shirt whose skull emblazoned front
seemed to represent his tortured soul's Peeping Tom. His
limp, unimaginatively brown, forgottenesque hair was worn
in two chin length, barely parted bangs that cordoned off a
lightly made up face so classic that, had he not been such a
downer, it might have sucked fan mail into his in box like
atmosphere into a punctured jet.
So taken was I with the drab atmospherics and festive
details of this crosshatched-seeming boy that I was caught quite
off guard when his morose eyes rose just far enough to spot
the bulge he had occasioned in my slacks.
I might have paused long enough to explain this billow
was more undercover cop than confidant had his prying eyes
not also signaled our arrival at the crime scene.
It was indeed a river wide and reliable enough to have
inspired a crooked blue line on local maps, but not so pretty on
the eyes or that much livelier than a cross-country puddle to
have warranted a name.
To hear Serge, Claude had wandered off one night, drinking
all the way, wound up here, and somehow suffered his
unfortunate accident. He'd lain dead and undiscovered in the
water so lengthily that when a groundskeeper found a bloated
corpse, he mistook it for a heavyset trespasser in his fifties.
Even Jean-Paul and Claire hadn't recognized Claude in the
gardener's wheelbarrow. They'd ordered the remains incinerated
on a pyre, as had long been the custom in the region when
discovering the hulk of an itinerant. But then Claude was
discovered missing and not gallivanting elsewhere, and the
unexplained and obvious were belatedly united with a plus sign.
Sharing this unpleasant detail seemed to weaken Serge,
and he sat down heavily on the river's sloping grassy bank.
When I asked him which slippery rock had done the damage,
he grew even more forlorn and pointed vaguely at the boulder
I had guessed.
As I peppered Serge with maudlin fan boy queries, his body
slumped and trembled slightly under memory's weight. At
the same time, his downcast eyes seemed increasingly taken
with something about me, if that mixture of recalcitrance and
focus is even possible.
The face I showed him in return could have led to every
awful secret I possess, one of them involving him, but, using
the hearsay that Emo equaled gay, or quite curious, at least, I
wagered he was far more built to ferret sleaze from boys than
their intentions.
On the off chance my manner hasn't made self-flattery
a metaphoric gild to my veritable lily, allow me to infer that
on the issue of attractiveness, I could spend many numbing
if prettily over-written pages counting the ways in which my
beauty is a fact, disputed by no one I've ever met, although I
suspect a simple background check might do.
My father, or rather the man I will generally refer to as
my father, cannot in truth take any credit for my layout. My
mother, who was loosely an actress until my fetus trashed her
waistline, appeared in a handful of films that the passage of
time has revised from daring cinematic gestures to unwatchable
displays of self-indulgence, usually playing a prostitute.
The last film in her middling CV was directed by the cultishly
forgotten auteur and, more important as per my point,
psychedelic heartthrob actor Pierre Clémenti, with whom,
yes, my mother slept while on some drug binge, ultimately
producing a child whose gradual enlargement would reveal to
my father's glazing eyes a face that has struck more than one
film buff of my acquaintance as scanned at high resolution
from Clémenti's. Luckily, I have escaped his chalk complexion
and, pray to God, his career derailing hair loss.
Given the freedoms of that face, it's not difficult to flirt, or
rather fake the act of flirting, when it's absolutely necessary,
and so I did.
While Serge's signals weren't as gifted, or perhaps I mean
well versed, unless winking and snorting has an erotic outreach
to which I am immune, his new erection, plain as day
and on the scrawny side, gave me the confidence to leer in his
direction with ever greater effervescence.
"So, are you really going to buy this place," he asked.
I'm just rich enough to answer yes, I was, and even mean
it. To be honest, I'd already concluded that the chateau's
backyard, if one can tag a walled off forest with that consolidating
term, was a kind of Père Lachaise Jr. just waiting for any
number of shovels to render its existence.
If that were true, Serge wondered aloud, could he store
his drum set at the chateau, then practice after school and
possibly on certain weekends? Their new home, he explained,
was just a chip of tower block whose vaporous walls and floors
would dash a career he'd embarked on at eleven.
While God is an idiotic premise, I often half wonder why
it is that life, or mine at least, seems less to change from day
to day than to be solved like an equation. For, not moments
before, I had all but decided Serge would need to die before he
suited me, and I had turned my attention to devising the first
opportunity to see him crumpled on the ground.
Thus, I agreed to his request without so much as a torturing,
in-between pause, and even added an uncalled for phrase
regarding how nice it would be to spend more time with him.
While his head bobbed enthusiastically, and his somber
eyes milked mine, I wiped the content from my face and
suggested we return to the chateau, where I would state my
serious intentions to his parents.
Retracing our steps down the trail that formed the property's
chief thoroughfare, I began the lengthy process of discrediting
Serge, as I call it, which you will come to understand
is my modus operandi in these cases—namely, by plying
him with questions about his likes and dislikes. Sure enough,
and let me add that this assessment stood beyond his death,
there was literally nothing worth archiving in the boy's head
It's true that until a year or two prior to that afternoon,
I might have set myself the less ambitious goal of having
some variety of sex with him, then, severely disappointed,
as I've always been by sex, and worrying about the act's
illegality, murdered him after a day or two or week of careful
Had Serge been a sculpture, he would not have been a
sculpture in the first place but a simple pedestal, although
connoisseurs less rigid than myself might have argued that it
held a cute if over-decorated bust.
By then we were approaching the chateau. I spied its
owners chatting, cocktails in hand, as they awaited our return
among the paths of a small, well kept garden. When the boy
and I were visible amid the backyard's copse of centuries old
maple trees and flowery hedges, Jean-Paul and Claire waved,
whereupon my young companion, flashing V for victory with
both raised arms, trotted ahead to join them.
"Might I have a final look around," I yelled to those
assembled, having waited to inquire until after the boy broke
his good news, which I knew would leave the owners with no
decision in the matter unless they wanted to be rude.
I left the trio toasting their new income and/or added
storage space and made a roughly forty-minute study of the
chateau I'd just hastily acquired.
In most respects, it was nothing but your average chateau,
full of heirlooms only heirs would even bother to insure and
elderly chairs and tables that only tourists could refer to as
antiques. Where the walls weren't painted the rustic white of
farm eggs, they were quashed by old fangled wallpaper that did
nothing but repeat a bleached out scene of birds in flight at sunset.


Excerpted from The Marbled Swan by Dennis Cooper Copyright © 2011 by Dennis Cooper. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Justin Taylor
The Marbled Swarm is a mindbending masterpiece from one of my all-time favorite writers. It is vivid, slippery, ferocious, and rich with secrets. Nobody else could have written this novel and nothing else like it exists.”
Gary Lutz
“This gorgeously warped brain-bender of a novel… reimagines the family romance (fathers-and-sons side only) in perfections of language that will startle and seduce you anew on every page. The Marbled Swarm is Dennis Cooper’s most genius-haunted achievement.”
Patrick deWitt
“Disquieting, humbling, and sadly beautiful in the way only Dennis Cooper can be, The Marbled Swarm is a mystifying and courageous novel that represents his finest work to date.”

Meet the Author

Dennis Cooper is the author of the George Miles Cycle, an interconnected sequence of five novels: Closer, Frisk, Try, Guide, and Period. His other works include My Loose Thread; The Sluts, winner of France's Prix Sade and the Lambda Literary Award; God, Jr.; Wrong; The Dream Police; and Ugly Man. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Paris.

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Marbled Swarm 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Heard the interview love that you are not inhibited by your desire for sex and violence. But why are you not writing something more than man on man on boy sex. I believe if you could just open your imagination broader see the picture youd realize you be doing something more with your definet writing skills. I think you could be better than lkhamilton in series writings your like fifty something and i as a reader want more from you. By classifying yourself in the genre you hide your true abilities as a writer i believe you know what i m saying write something most of americans will be enamored by not just your little supporters. You are a very gifted writer create something new change the world with it dont hide in your corner.