Getting Burned in the Burbs: Matthew Firth Tales of Degenerates

The Ottawa XPress, November 6, 2006

Matthew Firth’s Suburban Pornography (Anvil Press, 207 pp.)

Matthew Firth’s Suburban Pornography

Matthew Firth’s tales of degenerate one-night stands

“Relax, girl. It’s just like taking a big shit. Only in reverse.” These are the lines I recite readily and adoringly when I’m asked about the best in contemporary Canadian pornographic writing. It’s from Mingus Tourette’s 2004 book Nunt, which features on the front cover a nun in a gas mask with legs spread and wearing stilettos. The collection of prose-poetry is held up to Rimbaud and Bukowski for its rawness. But now, with the release of his new collection of short stories titled Suburban Pornography, Ottawa’s own Matthew Firth is being hailed as “Canada’s Bukowski.” But does Firth deserve the title?

Compared to Nunt, the front cover of Suburban Pornography sucks. It features a white-picket fence around a suburban house, and in the bedroom window over yonder is a silhouette of a naked lady. But there’s nothing cliché about the front-cover literary endorsement by author Dan Fante, who says of Firth’s talents: “He can write like a sonofabitch.” That’s serious praise coming from the son of writer John Fante, famed Los Angeles novelist and screenwriter, who Charles Bukowski praised and then reintroduced to the world in 1980.

What makes Suburban Pornography so memorable is the brutally honest snapshots of the inner-city ill-privileged and sad-sack suburbanites who fuck, suck, bleed, bruise, cruise and search for love among the loveless. Firth writes about garbage men, bus drivers, soup kitchen clients, neighbourhood perverts, waitresses and prostitutes who work in gritty Ontario towns, and are poisoned by lousy jobs and damaged relationships that keep them too tired, or busy, to contemplate their social conditions.

Sex comes cheap in Firth’s stories. Sheila Crawford sucks cock in the alley. Eddie blows ex-cop Craig in the shed. Steven fucks with mental-case Kathy. For example, in “The Summer of No Love,” Firth captures insolence in language stripped of ornament that bites bitterly:

“I lifted her skirt. I licked two fingers and then stuck them in. I jammed them in as far as they would go, then rotated them round and round to loosen her up, to make room. I pushed her legs further apart. I grabbed her ass. I slapped it. Slapped it hard. I pushed her feet apart. I stood behind her and pressed my cock up and down her ass cheek. She tensed. Then I pushed my cock lower and stuffed it in. She splashed in the dishwater as she braced herself. I fucked her like that…I pushed her head forward. I fucked her this way, then came and stepped away…I watched my semen run down her leg. I grabbed a tea towel and threw it at her. Then I turned and left.”

Folks yearn for redemption, glory and revenge just beyond their grasp, which might shake them out of their malaise. Like classic Bukowski, it never comes. If the reader wants resolution, too fucking bad. “Resolution is an artificially imposed device, like mouthwash,” Firth tells XPress about its sanitizing consequences. Things are never so clean in this caustic Firthy world. (It’s fitting that he names his chapbook publishing company Black Bile Press.)

Firth wrote two previous short-story collections and co-edited the short-fiction anthology Grunt and Groan: The New Fiction Anthology of Work and Sex. He insists he’s not a writer of porn or erotica. “I write realism,” he says, “which includes a lot of sex.”

Nonetheless, Firth is a proficient pornographer who wraps powerful language around provocative scenes as snugly as a condom on a very hard cock. Sure, it’s way safer sex than in Nunt, but I’d rather take two Canadian Bukowskis to bed than just one.

Book launch November 18, the Manx Pub, 370 Elgin Street, 5 p.m., free.

– Sylvie Hill