DIRTBAGS By Teresa McWhirter (Anvil), 235 pages, $20 paper. Rating: NNN
Dirtbags is what happens when you’re sitting on the porch of a party, unsure if you’re punk enough to pass, and meet a new best girlfriend who might change your life. Then again, she might just smoke all your cigarettes and steal your coat.
Dirtbags is the girl with a voice so gruff you can’t stop listening, even though you’re not really listening. She’ll tell you her whole life story and leave you calculating names and dates and details like it’s all that matters, even though a week later you might not be sure you actually met her.
Dirtbags, the second book of Vancouver’s Teresa McWhirter (Some Girls Do), is an ode to her home base’s Downtown East Side, with all its beer-guzzling and powders, tragic addict boyfriends, lousy-but-loved bands and girls who’d shave their heads for another round or puke into your purse for the fun of it.
McWhirter showcases untraditional best-friend loyalty, ambivalent sex and vague familial relations in a way that feels true.
Following the young woman, Spider, through the maze of poverty, punk and pills, McWhirter pens a story that’s easy to read even if you occasionally find yourself cringing.
The grit is real and often unromantic. Spider’s past – the rural BC backdrop and family heartache that bring her to her present – is treated tenderly. And though in the present nothing ever really happens and it’s easy enough to maintain your indifference to Spider and her slew of friends – two complicated badass girls named Sally Pepper and Blue stand out – you won’t be able to put Dirtbags down.
In fact, after the surprise ending, I wanted a sequel. Even a week later, I felt like I was missing friends, as if I were in a post-party blur and wondering, like an eighth grader, if I was hardcore enough, or maybe lacking something.