The Dirt Chronicles
We often underestimate Canadians' capacity for doing dirt. Sometimes we're prone to view them as those mild-mannered snow angels across the border, with their universal healthcare, liberal immigration policies, bilingualism, gay marriage and moderate marijuana laws. Their violent-crime rate is so much lower than ours. For Saskatchewan's sake, they even use beagles as police dogs! But "The Dirt Chronicles" (Arsenal Pulp Press), Kristyn Dunnion's fictional account of street kids in Toronto, throws a more distressing light on that progressive haven up north.
Published as a short-story collection, "The Dirt Chronicles" is actually more of a novel in that, from the third story onward, each installment reads as a chapter to a larger narrative, albeit with alternating narrators. Ferret, Oreo, Cricket and Digit establish The Factory, a queer/vegan/punk-metal anarchist commune, in a condemned building next to a slaughterhouse on the outskirts of town. From the outset, the Factory squatters and their friends are slated for much the same fate as the pigs next door and keep themselves about as clean. All of them have done time on the streets, been worked over in the worst ways, made friends with the wrong peeps and become prime targets of the King, a crooked cop who traffics gamins into prostitution and hunts down hustlers and freaks for sport. When a twink traitor named Darcy tips King off to a party that the Factory is throwing for Ferret's birthday, King and his patrolmen infiltrate the squat, killing and maiming guests and framing the Factory and its friends for the crimes. What follows are gut-wrenching annals from prison life, a pimp's corral for cop-abducted girls, a grisly murder in the abattoir, and life on the lam in northern Ontario.
The most telling line in the whole book is a simple one from tweaker Ray-Ray: "All of us, all us reject kids, should've been left alone to make our own way in this fucked-up world, the best we could," but instead they face a never-ending descent into hell. Dunnion is a master of reality gore, or, gore that is far too real and vivid to read as fiction as it does in the southern Gothic stories of Flannery O'Connor or in the fantasy-horror novels of Anne Rice and Stephen King. You would be hard-pressed to find better writing, but you might not have the stomach for the stories, which make the 1995 film "Kids" look like "The Sound of Music." Even Lemony Snicket has a brighter vision for his characters' futures and, as with the plays of dramatist Sarah Kane, the effect is often more gratuitous and assaultive than documentary and cathartic. Yet Dunnion is such a superlative writer with such exquisite literary sensibilities, you'll find yourself thrashing through the pages even as they thrash through you.
"The Dirt Chronicles"
Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, BC