:: Article

blue collar solitude: a review of Mark SaFranko’s Dirty Work

By Chris Brownsword.


By now, I suspect, Mark SaFranko must be getting a little tired of reading reviews of his books in which the reviewer questions why his work hasn’t yet received the wider recognition it deserves. The answer is straightforward; as Arthur Koestler pointed out in Scum of the Earth: people prefer the gilded lie to the shabby truth. And for his sins, SaFranko deals in the truth, the hard, shabby, dirty truth!

Dirty Work, the fourth novel to feature SaFranko’s alter-ego, Max Zajack, fills in the gaps between its acclaimed forebears Hating Olivia and God Bless America. Zajack has still to become a Lounge Lizard. At present, he drifts in and around the bleak habitat of Trenton, New Jersey, overworked and undersexed, struggling to realise his ambition to become a writer and/or musician.

Fans of the previous volumes will find themselves in familiar territory. Like Charles Bukowski, to whom he is often favourably compared, SaFranko doesn’t so much progress with each successive book as dig ever deeper into the same themes and source material (indeed, rather than follow a linear trajectory, the novels of the ‘Zajack quartet’ exist in relation to one another as a sequence of concentric rings); and like Bukowski, whose finest work arguably came later in his career, SaFranko’s prose has grown increasingly more precise, clear and sharp the deeper he penetrates into his subject matter, which is more or less the task of survival for a young man some way below the surface of the American Dream:

‘My only plan was to continue avoiding the draft…The war in Vietnam showed no sign of coming to an end. I had a draft number – 162 – which meant they were closing in on me.’

Dirty Work is unlikely to be the novel to bring SaFranko the commercial success that has so far eluded him. In a just world, of course, things might be different. But justice is applied arbitrarily in the world, and when it succeeds, it is often by accident rather than by design. Still, in the unfamiliar, isolated, gilded technological landscape we find ourselves in at the start of the new millennium, where everybody is connected but where nobody connects, SaFranko teaches us to laugh, perhaps even cry. And that in itself is a kind of victory.

Christopher Brownsword is the author of two collections of poetry, Icarus was Right! (Shearsman Books 2010) and Rise Like Leviathan and Rejoice! (forthcoming from Oneiros Books), a novella, Blind-Worm Cycle (Oneiros Books 2013), and a novel, The Scorched Highway (Oneiros Books 2013).

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, August 6th, 2014.