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Theatre, Music, etc.


August 10, 2012

Evenings Out

Down in the dirt

A baker’s dozen of stories tells one skillful tale

There are some fantastic writers coming from north of that imaginary line that separates those that have same-sex marriage legalized on a national basis and those that don’t, the dividing line between the land where “conservatives” believe in a Christian version of Shariah law and the one in which Conservatives won’t even bother to revisit the issue of same-sex marriage, despite a majority in Parliament.

That would be Canada, the land that the United States could have been had we been granted independence instead of fighting a war for it and throwing the civilization baby out with the bathwater. Epitomizing all that is good and noble and pure in Canadian literature is my favorite publishing house, Arsenal Pulp Press, those magnificent people who purvey Ivan E. Coyote, Daniel Allen Cox and today’s object of affection, Kristyn Dunnion, writer, performance artist and “dykemetal heartthrob” as the bassist for the band Heavy Filth.

After a trio of novels released under the aegis of Red Deer Press, she has unleashed The Dirt Chronicles (Arsenal Pulp, trade paper, $17.95), ostensibly a collection of short stories revolving around various LGBT punks in Toronto. When one says LGBT in relation to Dunnion’s characters, one means every letter. One could add in the QQIA and only be lacking the intersex, apparently.

The word “ostensibly” is used because, as the collection proceeds through its myriad twists and turns, it becomes apparent that it is not a collection of short stories; rather, it is a novel, told through a dozen voices from a dozen points of view. The office worker who falls for the bike courier might never be seen after his turn in the spotlight, but Two Ton, the blonde giant, is seen again. The country metalhead who helps a Mexican migrant farm worker escape authorities similarly disappears, but Geraldo fulfills his dreams of punk-rock stardom in later stories.

The main figures, however, are Ray-Ray and his paramour Eddie, Ojibwe lesbian Oreo and her girlfriend Ferret, Darcy the junkie rent boy and his transman friend Sly, squatters Cricket and Digit, and the dark presence whose shadow chills them all, the King.

The King, a corrupt cop named Earl King, is to this novel what Lord Voldemort is to the Harry Potter novels: antagonist, bogeyman, he-who-must-not-be-named. He is evil personified, starting as almost a myth, a folktale, before becoming a fleshly (and fleshy) menace that will stop at no dark depth to bring harm to those he deems unworthy: the queer, the homeless, the poor, the punk, the different. He will visit violence at a moment’s notice; he may have killed a young hustler, and he almost certainly has sold young women into the sex trade. He is the worst kind of scum, the kind that hides behind a badge.

With a villain so utterly reprehensible, so irredeemable, there are certainly some dark moments throughout the book. There are more than a few where it seems that, while Justice may be blind, she has also moved and left no forwarding address. There are bits of the book that are most definitely not for the faint of heart, but the authenticity of the voices and the knowledge that this punk rock Medea, unafraid to slay her own literary children in pursuit of her ends, assures and astounds the reader. One seldom associates female authors with truly brutal fiction; that tends to be the domain of the male, Bret Easton Ellis or Thomas Harris. Dunnion could probably take either of them in a fight.

Dunnion’s ability to speak in their different voices is truly phenomenal. Page after page, story after story, it is amazing hearing each different character in your head, realizing that the same person was speaking through them all. And in true liberal fashion, every base is touched on the way home. Class, race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, indigenous people’s issues, immigration, everything flies by on this ride.

Perhaps the only complaint I can synthesize about this book is that I can never again read it for the first time. Every time I open this book to reread it, I will know what is coming. That fresh-faced naïveté is gone forever, and I have experienced the tragedies and victories of these characters already. At some deep, primal level, that really saddens me.




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