amongst books

amongst books

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Recent Reads: Fiction

Shag Carpet Action. Matthew Firth. Anvil Press, 2011

Firth is known for his gritty tales of average joes, working class drudges, thugs & bullies, the jerks we knew in high school, voyeurs, masturbators & bus riders. This collection composed of a few stories plus the novella "Dog Fucker Blues" continues along this vein. I particularly enjoyed the novella & hope Firth continues to try longer forms. I'd like to see a novel. "Dog Fucker Blues" is an intense & compelling work about the tension of a city trade union. There are drugs involved, biker gangs, murder, drudgery of the working day & politics. Firth is a skilled storyteller. He's great at dialog & his descriptions make me wonder if he shouldn't be writing screen plays & turning this good shit into movies. There are some surprising turns in his stories. In "Action" a woman fucks herself with a Spider Man action figure while a voyeur watches. In "the Rookie and the Whore" a guy watches his Lacrosse buddies take turns fucking a local groupie. There's lots of violence in Shag Carpet Action. Characters are always trying to deal with seething resentment, their disenchantment with their lots in lives. Sometimes these resentments explode. That's when the fun begins. Firth doesn't mince words, he minces them up.

JEW. D.O. Dodd. Exile Editions, 2010

I read this book in one day. It's a compelling & terrifying book about a man who wakes up buried alive in a pile of dead bodies & manages to get out only to discover he's in the middle of a war. It's a disorienting book because the protagonist doesn't know anything about himself & we learn as he does. He finds a man who looks like himself, shoots him & takes his uniform, his gun & his vehicle, drives into a horrible town where soldiers are in charge. This is a fast-paced, horrifying story that has an allegorical feel. There is a war. It is a religious war. Certain terms are used like "Jew" & "Jihad.".Dodd is an excellent writer who thrilled me with this tale & made me shudder in disgust. I will read more of Dodd's work.

the Cube People. Christian McPherson. Nightwood Editions. 2010

Another book I read in a day, the Cube People is about the life of an Ottawa civil servant who is also a writer. He & his wife are going thru fertility treatment. McPherson describes the embarrassments & frustrations & joys of that process. These are the sorts of things people don't talk about in public & it's frustrating how private people can be about such. Good on McPherson for dealing with this in his novel with humour & pathos. The story centres around the drudge & absurdity of working as a civil servant while trying to start a family, have a good marriage. The characters McPherson describes are versions of civil servants Ottawans encounter on a regular basis. The book also talks about the protagonist's struggle as a writer. The rejection letters the protagonist receives are funny; publishers are peculiar eccentrics & we also see the appearance of the famous & prolific Canadian icon Maggie Woodlawn. McPherson's protagonist writes a novel called the Hungry Hole, so that we get to read a story within the story. It's a fabulous technique & creates amusing situations, such as when , the main character's mother in law arrives & she's a hideous bitch, he writes a chapter in which the main character's mother in law is swallowed up by the hole. It's a fun book, but it is also a touching account of a couple's struggle with wanting a family, with their marriage, with trying to balance work & home, pot addled side-kicks, having to find a way to photocopy forms to fill out forms to get permission to use the photocopier, those icky cheese nachos at the 7-11 & the insatiable void that drag us into its blackness.

The Mountie at Niagara Falls and other brief stories. salvatore difalco. Anvil Press. 2010

I'm not quite finished this yet, but might as well add it into the mix. these are short shorts from a paragraph to a couple of pages. difalco takes a microscope to life & gives us eccentric portraits of people, places, things. he's very articulate with a fine sense of language. also love the illustrations by Francesco Gallé. I noticed the back of the book blurbs focussing on the whimsy of this book & that's true, but I wouldn't want the fanciful stuff to overshadow difalco's keen observation skills & his gift for the understated.

Front & Centre Issue 26. Black Bile Press, 2011

If you don't have a subscription to Front&Centre (2 issues for $10/4 issues for $18), go here & get one. I'm not finished reading the issue yet, but I'm already blown away by the first story, "A Gathering of the Clan," by Raymond Soltysek, about a man who's attending a funeral, the taboos & transgressions that have taken place within that fucked up family. It's a powerful story & will have me searching out Soltysek, a writer from Glasgow, Scotland. Where in hell would I have ever encountered such a writer if not for Front & Centre? What I like about this magazine is that it presents excellent stories that deal with the hard stuff nobody talks about & by writers you don't see in the standard Canadian literary journals. For the past couple of issues, there have also been great interviews at the start of the issue. It's where I learned about difalco's book above. This issue features an interview with the publishers of Siren Song, a small press out of Montreal. It's inspiring to see how small press publishers are so driven to publish. It's rewarding for me as a reader to discover great writing. Black Bile Press run by Matthew Firth & Bill Brown is doing a great job at this. There are also interesting reviews of books that go unnoticed by the Globular Mail & the National Pissed.

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