This book was supposed to be called “Dog Fucker Blues.” The marketing department axed that idea, unfortunately. That excellent title is great not just for the swearing, but because it’s the last and longest story of this collection that truly encapsulates what all the stories are about. The phrase doesn’t refer to depression caused by having intercourse with a canine, but rather to dicking around when you’re supposed to be working.
Most of the stories follow the lives of blue-collar men doing (or more often, not doing) fairly menial jobs in Hamilton, Ontario. This is a world the author is well acquainted with — by day Firth works with the national trade union — and he lays out its complicated politics starkly and fearlessly. In what ought to have been the title story, the reader is taken into the depths of the city’s waste management union during contentious contract negotiation. The city is attempting to roll back certain benefits and the union’s membership is torn: many want to strike just to keep the door closed to privatization which means losing sweet jobs that allow for pot smoking on the clock and cheap blowjobs courtesy of the city’s strippers off hours. Then there are the forces opposed to the strike, namely organized crime and the fear that a long strike would hurt the drug and prostitution business. And then there are those in the middle: the very few old-school ideologues who are genuinely concerned about “solidarity,” and, lastly, the first-generation Canadian immigrants who just want to do their work, pick up a pay cheque and go home to their families at night. All the stories are drawn in deep shades of ashen, Hamilton grey, portraying no one in a particularly favourable light. (Richard Rosenbaum)
Matthew Firth, 160 pgs, Anvil Press, anvilpress.com, $18