SUBURBAN PORNOGRAPHY by Matthew Firth (Anvil), 207 pages, $18 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
In Suburban Pornography, his third collection of short stories, Matthew Firth delivers 17 exercises in the ham-fisted, brutalist fiction that has already gained him an uneasy notoriety.
Here, Firth plows ahead with stories devoted mostly to sad sack losers in small towns going about their daily business of exploiting each other and, most importantly, women.
In the lead tale, Sheila Crawford Sucks Cocks, two 11-year-old boys contemplate the mystery of the town slut, only two years their senior, servicing older boys in a parked car. In The Summer Of No Love, a 30-something asshole has a noncommittal and graphic relationship with a mentally unstable girl fresh out of the asylum. And so on.
Firth's style is so stripped-down and raw, you might think his stories have been left to rot by the side of the freeway, to be picked clean until only their bones remain.
There are rare moments of tenderness and working-class heroism. Job Action is less a story than an admiring portrait of an indestructible garbage man who keeps his union comrades and job in strict line even as he drinks, smoke joints and whores around on the job. The weird surrealist stream-of-consciousness Giant finds a man driving endlessly down the highway with an open hole in his side, an allegory of male vulnerability and flight.
Suburban Pornography is a sexually explicit book, though there is too much clinical distance and sheer lack of intimacy to make any of the sex titillating. This Firth does on purpose. He has often said that his writing is not erotica but, rather, addresses reality, which happens to include a lot of sex.
The operative words here are "violence" and "despair," and there's not much in between. Firth's deadpan and insistent emphasis on the filthiness of the human condition is well observed but unremitting.