canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Porny Stories
by Eva Moran
DC Books, 2008

by Daniel Allen Cox
Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008

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Reviewed by Matthew Firth

Okay, we’re dealing with two CanLit whippersnappers here. Looking at their bios, the publication page, etc. – both writers are in their thirties. So, yes, young by CanLit standards, although "young" is such a useless and arbitrary label, almost as silly as "emerging" – Chris Chelios would likely be considered young and emerging by CanLit standards if he ever wrote a fiery novel about his days with the Habs.

Okay, enough with the hockey comparisons, although Eva Moran put me up to it in her very sassy short fiction collection, Porny Stories, as she often invokes sporty references (hockey, boxing; Moran has a serious thing-on for Oscar de la Hoya). Her book really is a tonne of fun to read. I laughed at Moran’s humour, smiled widely at her refreshingly blunt and honest portrayal of female sexuality, and was amused by the variety of her story telling, which swings from direct narratives to absurd Cosmo-style surveys.

From its title onward, Moran makes it clear that desire and sex are central to her collection. The first line of the book reads: "I want you to want me." – another indicator of what is to come.

Many of the stories plot the sexual misadventures of an unnamed female narrator. Desire – saucy female desire, to be specific – oozes from this book, like, well, those slippery, tasty secretions that come out of a woman. Consider these examples:

It’s pretty hard to keep quiet when Harry’s kitkatting me and whispering in my ear about how he’d like to ATM.

Last night, my epileptic lover turned over to spoon me and said, "I think it’d be really cool to fuck me while I was grand maling. I’d be all tense and jerky and shit. It’d be a fucking ride, baby." This from a guy, who, when I’m giving him a blowjob, won’t let me stick a finger up his ass.

But the sailors just keep on smiling. The waves of cum lapping my body. The endless deep thrumming of thousands of fists pumping.

I’m thinking this over – thinking about my Bello, the Astroglide I had stashed by the bed for Harry all over my fingers and my hand down my pants – when the phone rings.

Four fingers in a vagina? Ass-to-mouth stunts? A finger up a male arse? Thousands of wanking sailors? Lubed-up, masturbatory female fingers? I’ll say this much – Moran is obviously not shy when it comes to writing about sex.

Porny Stories is pure post-feminist bliss. Sex toy, lube and porn references abound. This is unfettered, 21st century writing. That Porny Stories is a breath of fresh air amidst the typically dour, unsexy, middle-aged CanLit circles cannot be over-stated.

The story "Old" looks at how a blend of Lavalife, dating books, and booze might get you laid but won’t bring enduring happiness. What’s refreshing about the female narrator in this story is that she’s fine with being fucked and then immaturely shunned by the asshole who fucked her once he sobers up. She does not pine for old-fashioned romance and commitment, nor does she consider herself a victim or self-deprecatingly label herself a whore – she bounces back and moves on to her next potential fuck. Some readers might consider this amoral or shocking. I find it beautifully honest and real.

Moran also extends her humour beyond just sex to literature, taking a good-natured poke at writers in "How to Date a Writer." Compared to even shitty, indie band rockers and half-assed painters, writers just don’t rank – "Writers are the bottom of the art/sex barrel and they know it." Moran states in this story and I can’t help but agree, thinking back on dreadfully bland readings I have endured and books I have toughed-out to read.

In Porny Stories Moran writes about how women survive and get off in a fucked-up world. She does it with style and verve. Porny Stories is a juicy romp of a book that mixes sexuality, humour and humanity perfectly.

All right, the next whippersnapper on the agenda is Daniel Allen Cox. Remarkably, his novel Shuck is even saucier than Moran’s Porny Stories, which is no knock against Moran. She’s plenty saucy but Cox takes it to the next level.

Shuck charts a year in the young life of Jaeven Marshall, a New York City rent boy/hustler who has dreams of becoming a writer. This short, feisty novel is set in 1999 and follows Marshall’s shenanigans toward what is expected to be the year-end millennial meltdown (remember that madness?).

Marshall also reckons 1999 will be the year he turns his life around. He aspires to be a writer but also "Boy New York" – an unofficial title anointed on the city’s hottest gay hustler. But it’s a long climb to such heights. Marshall starts the book a quasi-homeless (he squats in a shoe store stock room), cheap trick rent boy attached to a barely functioning, tape-playing Walkman. Derek Brathwaite, following a beating from a violent trick, takes Marshall off the street. Derek is enamoured with Marshall’s wounds and gets off cleaning up the poor rent boy. Derek is also a rather eccentric NYC artist but his talents are faltering, so he turns to a pair of turtles to create for him, just one of many absurdly funny moments created by Cox in this robust novel.

Saved from street life, Marshall starts his ascent but not without some bumps along the way. He is duped into posing for a naughty website called Forced to Guzzle. He hooks up with some rather twisted tricks, one who insists he’s a goat with a thing for Marshall’s shoes; another who gets off on Marshall’s socks. Next, Marshall models for gay skin mags and then it’s on to gay porn flicks, where his first role as a pizza delivery boy in Homework Hard-on 101 is pure porn cliché. Cox describes the making of the film hilariously:

My dick goes soft again and slips out of Miguel’s vacuous ass. It takes time for me to work it up again. The lube is the kind that gums up quickly and it keeps messing up the condom. There’s a lot of waiting around. Vince chews on my nipple.

This funny, yet maudlin and detached description of life on a porn set reminds me of Chuck Palahniuk’s Snuff. Cox’s rapid-fire prose bears comparison to Palahniuk in other parts of Shuck:

Today, a jerk-wad stuffed a hundred between my cheeks, poking it in that extra half-inch with his pinky, so it would be tainted with the stink of my ass. That Franklin is forever connected, as long as its circulation life will last, with the ass that earned it this afternoon.

And this from Palahniuk’s Snuff:

Teddy-bear dude turns sideways to me, twisting his head to the other side. Dude’s thinking I can’t see, but from between his lipsticked lips he pulls a chewed-up, used condom. Some old rubber he wore or one he’s found on the set, I don’t want to know. After watching my share of faggot porn flicks, it’s no surprise they get off on eating their own jizz. Eating anybody’s.

Cox’s tone, style and blunt depictions are similar to Palahniuk’s. This does not suggest Cox’s writing is derivative. Palahniuk – love him or hate him – is a contemporary force when it comes to brawling, bare-knuckled fiction these days. Cox, though, is a more compassionate writer – maybe it’s the Canadian in him – as shown here, early in Shuck, when he describes Marshall’s poverty:

There might even be a tapeworm gnawing a hole through my stomach out of secondary hunger but if I hold my Walkman just right, the music plays and the world is perfect.

Cox’s protagonist – Jaeven Marshall – is also deeply human, underneath the whoring. He feels empathy for Derek, even though they never hit it off romantically. And Marshall’s literary goals are pure and honest.

But eventually, his hustler-star status fades as quickly as it was ignited and the fall back to earth is difficult, especially when Marshall learns that his Boy New York title has been usurped by Trey, who Marshall ravaged in the making of Homework Hard-on 101. As 1999 ticks into oblivion, Marshall makes one last stab at a literary life.

Cox is to be lauded for writing an entertaining novel. The writing is strong, humorous and expertly paced throughout. He also brings seedy New York back to life, as seen through the eyes of a young, gay stud. Props, too, to Arsenal Pulp Press for bringing this and other provocative titles to print.

Cox is am imaginative and audacious writer. Shuck is brash and lively and a fine advancement on Cox’s 2006 novella Tattoo This Madness In.


Matthew Firth’s most recent book is Suburban Pornography and Other Stories. He is also editor/publisher of Front&Centre and Black Bile Press chapbooks. He lives and loves large in Ottawa.




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