Pieced together by visitors to an online male-escort review site, Dennis Cooper’s The Sluts is a hyperlinked murder mystery narrated by anonymous tops, masochists, porn-star ne’er-do-wells, rim-job aficionados, bareback breeders, Nick Carter fanatics, and the occasional “Leather daddy type, mid-50s, into restraints and heavy anal sex with youthful-looking bottoms.” Unlike the fragile LSD/Guided by Voices philosophizing of Guide, Period’s rustic, romantic outsider art, or My Loose Thread’s claustrophobic brother-to-brother dysfunctions, The Sluts is a distillation of these bloodier earlier works, and according to Cooper, his last hurrah with the dark death/sex material. Tracking über-bottom Brad, a death-wishing submissive twink hustler with a “talented asshole,” and his violently opportunistic pimp of a boyfriend, Brian, the book begins with Web postings by alternately satisfied, confused and near-ecstatic johns relaying dates with Brad, who possesses unearthly beauty as well as a facial tic and assorted mental issues. Later reviews capture Brad’s increasingly extreme quirks (e.g., torching buildings, violent outbursts), which only help to engender a phase of intense Brad hype/worship that eventually leads to obsessive maiming, leg smashing, precision castration and murder. Like a number of Cooper’s doomed boys — Guide’s snuffed, youngster porn star Goof; the inverted George Miles doppelgänger EgoreG in Period — Brad has an inoperable brain tumor, and he has only six months to live. The promise of death’s inevitability allows Brian and company to realize a fantasy of killing someone during sex with very little guilt. As he does in Frisk, Cooper uses the theme of written fantasy versus actual violence; the postings that make up this digital-age epistolary novel are crammed with so much misinformation, it soon becomes difficult discerning reality from mean-spirited motives and masturbatory invention. The Sluts is chattier than most of the Los Angeles author’s past work, and Cooper captures friendly, often very funny cyber-speak — the author calls it “a horny everyman rhetoric” — subtly sustaining prose patterns for each individual, creating suspense as well as laugh-out-loud snuff-related punch lines with the spare, carefully modulated language of Web sites, message boards, a dating-service telephone conversation, faxes and e-mail. The most intriguing chapters are modeled after Male4maleescorts.com’s review forms: Name, age, address and hourly/nightly rate as well as body type, dick size, bedroom manner and more difficult questions like “Did he live up to what he promised?” are listed in point form and read like minimalist poetry. Despite wild European success, Cooper remains somewhat pigeonholed in the States. Due to The Sluts’ quasi-pornographic nature, Cooper’s agent suggested that he skip shopping it to more mainstream, squeamish outlets. Luckily, Void Books, a nascent Brooklyn press founded as an update of serious erotica publishers such as Obelisk and old-school Grove, offered to release it, bloody dildos and all. While The Sluts is sure to receive a mainstream cold shoulder, God Jr., Cooper’s novel forthcoming next summer from Grove, might bring with it a critical frequency shift: no gay characters, no sex, only Nintendo video-game violence and a loving father who feels responsible for the death of his teenage son. Cooper deserves reassessment, but until an Oprahesque crossover occurs, this compelling page turner ought to remind adventurous readers that important transgressive literature needn’t be something only the French and the occasional perverted American can get behind. THE SLUTS | By DENNIS COOPER | Void Books | 296 pages | $50 hardcover

LA Weekly