I first read this book when I was maybe about 15, and I’d never read, or imagined I would read anything quite like it. There’s gay sex (shock horror!), cannibalism, necrophilia and a whole lot of gore & death. But there’s something of substance here too.
Brite has this great way of vividly encapsulating a certain time and place. Exquisite Corpse deals with the aftermath of the AIDS breakout and the hopelessness felt by the young gay community in New Orleans. Brite writes for a generation, and it’s stayed with me the same way as my own teenage years have.
You’ve probably heard that this love story about two cannibalistic serial killers (loosely modeled after Dennis Nilsen and Jeffrey Dahmer) is over the top. You’ve been warned about the lovingly meticulous descriptions of murder and necrophilia. But the novel also features a keen look at the AIDS plague, in a setting almost worth dying for: Brite’s doomed aesthetes dance in a sweet, heady New Orleans of milky coffee and beignets, alligators, Billy Holiday tunes, scented candles, pirate radio, swamp French, andouille sausage and one bar for every 175 people. And the structure is the tightest of Brite’s books so far”. (From Goodreads)
To serial slayer Andrew Compton, murder is an art, the most intimate art. After feigning his own death to escape from prison, Compton makes his way to the United States with the sole ambition of bringing his “art” to new heights. Tortured by his own perverse desires, and drawn to possess and destroy young boys, Compton inadvertently joins forces with Jay Byrne, a dissolute playboy who has pushed his “art” to limits even Compton hadn’t previously imagined. Together, Compton and Byrne set their sights on an exquisite young Vietnamese-American runaway, Tran, whom they deem to be the perfect victim.
Swiftly moving from the grimy streets of London’s Piccadilly Circus to the decadence of the New Orleans French Quarter, and punctuated by rants from radio talk show host Lush Rimbaud, a.k.a. Luke Ransom, Tran’s ex-lover, who is dying of AIDS and who intends to wreak ultimate havoc before leaving this world, Exquisite Corpse unfolds into a labyrinth of murder and love. Ultimately all four characters converge on a singular bloody night after which their lives will be irrevocably changed — or terminated.
Oh, and I’m still totally in love with Tran!