Will the Real Matthew Firth Step Forward, Please?

Shag Carpet Action
by Matthew Firth
Publisher: Anvil Press
Price: $18.00 paper
ISBN: 978-1-89753-584-4

One of the major difficulties of writing transgressive, post-realist urban fiction in Canada is how that writing, by and large, is received by reviewers. Largely lacking the critical wherewithal to appropriately interpret transgressive, post-realist urban fiction, reviewers simply regurgitate publisher press releases — often verbatim — then proceed to act as spoilers by giving up what the book is about, story by story, along with a few pithy interpretations.

Matthew Firth, born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, and now living in Ottawa where he works by day for a national trade union has experienced these haphazard literary reviews ever since the publication of his first three collections of transgressive, post-realist short stories: Fresh Meat (Rush Hour Revisions, 1997), Can You Take Me There, Now? (Alley Cat Editions, 2001), and Suburban Pornography and Other Stories (Anvil Press, 2006).

A common thread running through reviews of all Firth’s early collections were that they were “too sordid,” “too dark,” “too violent” and “too raunchy.” And like a bad aftertaste running through almost every individual review is Firth’s comparison with American underground writer, Charles Bukowski. Besides the most superficial of comparisons between these two writers, they could not be more different. While Bukowski’s fiction is largely based on his persona’s alcohol-fueled narcissism, misogyny, and misanthropy — Firth’s characters seek meaning, substance, and personal gratification in their bland, quotidian existence. Anyone who has followed Firth’s development as a writer from book to book, can attest to this distinction.

Which brings me to Firth’s fourth and most recent collection of short fiction, Shag Carpet Action (Anvil Press, 2011). When I read Firth described as “something of a disciple of the late American 20th-century author and poet Charles Bukowski” by Paul Gessell in The Ottawa Citizen, I was flabbergasted. But not entirely surprised, either.

Take, for instance, the first story, “Action.” A story about a voyeur watching a neighbour woman repeatedly having sex with a Spiderman action figure. Gessell figures the X-rated premise of “Action” to be preposterous…”an immensely sad story about the lengths unloved people will go to find something resembling intimacy.” Much like Gessell’s comparison of Firth with Bukowski, it is a shallow and pithy interpretation of a much more complex allegory. Rather than being a sad search for intimacy, Firth explores in this tight, punchy piece, middle-age sexual desire and obsession from the dual perspective of both sexes.

The novella, “Dog Fucker Blues,” which takes up almost half of Shag Carpet Action, is Matthew Firth’s best work to date. The story functions as a microcosm, of sorts, for all middle-aged men in the workplace, and the complex tightrope they walk in these uncertain economic times. What makes it transgressive isn’t the pill-pushing thugs or the drugged-out sex workers. It’s all the ways you learn to swallow the bullshit:

“When I hit twenty years of service, I just told myself I was on the downside, heading toward retirement way off in the distance. I looked at it this way: the job was like one drawn-out workday and I was into the afternoon. All I had to do was ride it out for another twenty years, call it a day…”(p.156, Shag Carpet Action)

Posted on by urbangraffito Posted in Books, Fresh Raw Cuts, Review

One Response to Will the Real Matthew Firth Step Forward, Please?

  1. xejet

    Mark,

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for the insights.

    -BrianK