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Suburban Porn by Matthew Firth

Suburban Pornography by Matthew Firth (Anvil Press)

Suburban Pornography has a slightly deceptive title, in that many of the stories take place a long way from suburbia. Matthew Firth‘s concerns are with the lives — sad, joyous and everything in between — of the working classes. As such they tend to be set away from suburbia, and around locales like the housing projects, neighborhood bars and the shitty workplaces that his characters inhabit.

Firth is a poet of the working man. The stories are often fragments with deceptively ordinary settings: one of the collection’s best stories takes place while the protagonist waits for a bus. A reviewer described Firth as “Canada’s Bukowski,” but I’d say a closer description would be a literary Mike Leigh. Even though they celebrate working-class culture, the stories in Suburban Pornography do not fetishize it: there is no more nobility on display here than in the lives of the suburbanites who inhabit the collection’s title piece.

Something is defiantly happening in the literary scene, and Suburban Pornography is more proof of that. The voice here is consistent with writers like Dan Fante, Noah Cicero, and yes, even Bukowski: there is no trickery, no grasping for “big concepts” or postmodernism. This is life in all of its terrible, ugly beauty presented in prose that cuts straight to the heart of the matter.

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“The Center” is one standout, a collection of scenes played out in the food line of a homeless shelter. While undoubtedly bleak and heartbreaking, Firth also allows a chink of sunlight in when the daughter of a homeless couple is presented with a birthday cake and a party in the center. As ultimately sad as the party is, Firth writes about it with enough warmth that the drama is always human and real. “The Summer Of No Love” is the story of a doomed affair, and is a brutal dissection of the unbridgeable divide between people. “Job Action” is a boozy and stoned slice of life portrayal of a day on the job as a garbage man during the potential build-up to a strike.

And, of course, there is the story “Suburban Pornography” which is a hilariously subversive tale of voyeurism and sexual frustration, which speaks volumes about the author’s attitude towards those on the “other side of the tracks”. It seems the middle classes do not hold any secrets that make them happier than the desperate souls who inhabit the rest of the stories in this book — just different struggles, different frustrations, and the same quiet desperation.

As a writer of characters, Firth shares a skill that Scottish author Laura Hird has in spades: the ability to talk in different voices without making the reader disorientated. Firth’s characters are real: we can hear them speak; we can almost smell the booze on their breath and the grease on their clothes. We sympathize with them, we feel their frustration, and we revel in their victories. Suburban Pornography, along with the other recent collections that have blown me away: Dan Fante’s Short Dog / Cocksucker, the upcoming Everyday by Lee Rourke, and Laura Hird’s Hope and other Urban Tales are proof positive that the much mourned short story is alive and well, and making a strong come back.

The book is available from all the usual online retailers, but why not put some extra beer money in the author’s pocket and buy directly from Black Bile Press?

tonyoneill.jpgABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Tony O’Neill
is a leading light of the Offbeat Generation. He is the author of Digging the Vein, Songs From the Shooting Gallery and Seizure Wet Dreams. More details here.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, May 19th, 2007.