Smothered In Hugs: Essays, Interviews, Feedback, and Obituaries by Dennis Cooper

I don’t know what to say about Smothered In Hugs, other than, that if you have any interest whatsoever in 80s/90s/post-millenial pop or alt culture you owe it to yourself to become acquainted with Dennis Cooper’s criticism. Even if you disagree with what he says about, for example, William S. Burroughs or Quentin Tarantino, because he is a fiction writer by trade there is in each piece, as Cooper notes in the preface, a noticeable “struggle to fulfill the formal requirements of the assignment” given. This struggle to condense his busy interior/brain-world to a single, unified piece of writing, makes for some wonderful and meaty essays.

My fascination with Dennis Cooper started when I first visited his blog earlier this year. It, like the writing in Smothered In Hugs, is sometimes intimidatingly bold. After Smothered In Hug’s humbling preface, Cooper attacks each subject unabashedly. His writing has rhythm and momentum and life unlike any writer I can think of off the top of my head. I found myself racing through these essays at a more accelerated pace than usual; his energetic prose encouraged speed-reading and subsequent illuminative re-readings.

In one of the book’s many pieces, William T. Vollmann, in conversation with Cooper, says that “so much writing doesn’t have heart in it,” and I agree. I haven’t read any of Dennis Cooper’s fiction, but now I very much want to. It may be easier to wholeheartedly (for lack of a better term) write the kind of nonfiction that appears in this collection; Cooper is always the “I,” the thoughts are always entirely his own. But I imagine his fictional characters are probably written with similar vivacity, similar heart. With Smothered In Hugs, Cooper has cemented a position on my list of cultural critics whose voice I’ll always gladly turn to for its casual intelligence, striking surety, and strength.

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