301 Moved Permanently

301 Moved Permanently


Book Review: Shag Carpet Action by Matthew Firth

The essence of literature is discretion. Literature should stimulate our linguistic muscles not just stroke our carnal muscle. If you want to write about a girl who likes being gang-banged or about a regular guy who fantasizes about going down on his neighbour, or about an Eastern European milf who masturbates with her kid’s Spider Man toy, then you should just write a blog.

Matthew Firth’s Shag Carpet Action is a collection of indiscrete stories that try hard to be in-your-face but each one ratchets up the crude and mundane with shards of insight about the mysteries of human communication.

This is from “The Rookie and the Whore,” a story about a lacrosse player who’s in a motel room with his buddies, drinking, getting stoned, and watching the local slut take one for the team: “Tex sits on the edge of the bed slowly jerking off. He reaches over and slaps Broom Hilda’s ass. G fucks her from behind. She’s on all fours, with her face mashed in a pillow. The Rookie comes over. He tugs his cock to get it hard.”

The simple sentences suit a bleak fuck scene because they replicate the treadmill syntax of porn. Laughing, Tex says “The Rookie and the Whore. Like the Rabbit and the Hare,” and then, the Rookie’s cock in Broom Hilda’s “half gagging, half lustful moaning” mouth, the narrator thinks “It was the tortoise. … A rabbit is a hare.” The insertion of wit breaks and redirects the tedium of masturbatory pulp.

Here’s Steve, the middle-aged narrator of “Fuck Buddies,” getting stoned with his neighbour. “I think about how close I am to her vagina. I mean, it can’t be more than an inch below the hem of her pants where her cunt hair starts, another inch or so down to her clit, then further to the hole: the heart of the matter.” The colon is crude but there’s value in the fact that men think like this.

Firth’s talent is that he writes what people might think but don’t say. In “Action,” the story about the woman who gets off with the Spider Man figure, the narrator is—surprisingly—female, a wonderfully cut character who is, like everybody, voyeuristic when opportunity presents itself but also remarkably pensive. Thinking about her drab life, she envisions “giant vaginas,” a “bed covered in a warm, soft baked beans,” and her “stupid husband’s head on a stake,” then unfolds this simple sincerity: “I want something to change in my life, anything.”

Firth has a gift for suturing brilliance into banality, especially in the stories that don’t fixate on the sexual parts. Like in “Dog Fucker Blues,” a novella-length piece, where the working-stiff narrator makes observations that betray his grunt job with the city. So the Italians working on the cement crew have a “steady and predictable” ritual at lunch: they don’t just eat, they “meticulously assemble their lunches on the napkins and then eat slowly and deliberately.” It’s working-class realism we all know but don’t see often enough in fiction.

Firth’s stories are terse. He writes like a Hemingway educated on the shop floor in one of those factories in his native Hamilton. That, at least to me, is a recipe for excellence itself. There’s little excess narration or over-wrought character introspection here. No mess, no fuss, just pure impact. »

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