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Book Reviews

Suburban Pornography and Other Stories

by Matthew Firth

The first story in Matthew Firth’s new collection is entitled “Sheila Crawford Sucks Cocks.” Firth is a confrontational writer, and by placing this story at the very start he is clearly issuing both a warning and a challenge. A warning that the stories to follow are not ones you could comfortably read to your grandmother, and a challenge to the entrenched notion of CanLit as a bastion of politesse, where sex always occurs in soft focus, only hardened criminals
do drugs, and the travails of modern life, if they are dealt with at all, are burnished to a golden hue in prose that is lyrical, poetic, and utterly devoid of life.

The 17 stories in Suburban Pornography take a blowtorch to that idea of Canadian literature, setting it alight and crafting out of its ashes a series of meditations on urban malaise that are minimalist, unflinching, and profane. In “A Serious Deterrent,” the brother of a dying woman exacts a dreadful revenge on her neglectful husband. In “The Centre,” a father who is forced to take refuge in a shelter with his wife and young daughter wants nothing more than to give his little girl a cake on her birthday. And in the title story, a suburbanite spies on his outwardly upstanding neighbours as they perform sex acts in front of their living room window.

Firth is enamoured of short, sharp, declarative sentences and sentence fragments that put a reader in mind of Raymond Carver or of Kenneth J. Harvey’s recent novel Inside. But as with Carver or Harvey, there are depths of meaning and emotion roiling beneath the surface of Firth’s deceptively simple prose. These are stories of damaged, wayward souls seeking any form of succour they can wrest from a world that seems indifferent at best.

The milieu of Suburban Pornography is instantly recognizable, with its strip malls and Tim Hortons coffee shops, but its familiarity is one of the aspects that lend the book its power. Firth does what so few Canadian writers even attempt: he writes bravely about the way we live now, and for that, he should be congratulated.