Back in 1991 I read a review of Dennis Cooper's Frisk. I remember it was written by Fangoria writer Linda Marotta. I wonder what ever happened to her?

The tides were changing and growing darker as the nineties commenced. Colorful, fun horror was being replaced by dark, sometimes murky hip fiction. My tastes were changing along with the times. Frisk sounded like something I would love. Shocking, perverse, somehow dangerous.

I went to the library and checked out two books: Cooper's Frisk and Paul Theroux's Chicago Loop. I dove into Frisk right away.

And I hated it. I found Dennis Cooper's prose to be stiff, dry, and completely uninvolving. It reminded me of Ellis's Less Than Zero, which I had disliked a few years beforehand. It also reminded me of American Psycho, another book I thoroughly despised. How could writers like Brett Easton Ellis and Dennis Cooper take such sensationalistic subject matter and turn out fiction so boring?

I distinctly remember being unimpressed by a pretentiously filtered photo of Dennis Cooper on the Frisk dust jacket by Robert Mapplethorpe. It's like the notorious photographer was trying way too hard to make Cooper look deep and mysterious.

I threw Frisk aside and turned to Chicago Loop instead.

The two books share various similarities. Both deal with sex and murder. Both are transgressive and feature deeply disturbing behavior.

In Chicago Loop Theroux's character, Parker Jakoda, is an upscale yuppie who buys dilapidated buildings and converts them into sweatshops. He's your typical cold, rich urban sophisticate. Dissatisfied with his wife, infant child, and home life, Jakoda takes out personal ads. In one encounter he literally devours his date. Theroux deliberately keeps readers in the dark as to whether it was his first killing or if there had been previous murders.

The papers dub him the Wolfman, and Jakoda is at first unsure he is even the killer. In time he realizes the truth and is consumed with guilt. Jakoda foregoes his diet and stuffs his face with Double Whoppers and other junk foods.

Jakoda's guilt is so great he begins to hit the streets and bars in drag, hoping he will be assaulted and killed as atonement.

Chicago Loop is the darkest and most disturbing book in a career dedicated to the dark and disturbing. It reminds me of Joyce Carol Oates' Zombie. This novel would have fit in well with the Dell/Abyss series of horror novels that had been thriving at the time.

Coincidentally, Parker Jakoda and his wife attend a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit in Chicago Loop. Jakoda jeers at the photographs, claiming that since most are stark portraits with no background, they have no context. He also concludes that the subjects of the photos must be victims of some kind. When accused of being shocked by them. Jakoda replies that there would be something wrong with him if he wasn't.

Later, as Jakoda's psychosis deepens, he feels kinship to the faces in the Mapplethorpe portraits.

I'm sure Paul Theroux was inspired by Mapplethorpe to write Chicago Loop. He was in the news a lot at the time, and I had just seen a documentary about the NEA scandal. The photographs were predominately featured in the movie, along with other controversial pieces like Andrea Andres' "Piss Christ". I found the documentary interesting, but I honestly hate that kind of thing.

Paul Theroux has written nearly every imaginable type of novel. Chicago Loop would fall squarely in the horror realm, but I heard nary a whisper about it in the genre mags. It's too bad, because I think a lot of fans would like it. Especially in those dark old days of transgression.

It's also sad that Chicago Loop is nearly forgotten even by Theroux fans. Many who liked The Mosquito Coast and My Secret History were repelled by Chicago Loop. While most of the writer's works remain in print, this one is unavailable even as a Kindle.

Written by Mark Sieber

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