Matt Forney
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Breakfast with the Dirt Cult by Samuel Finlay

breakfast-with-the-dirt-cultBreakfast with the Dirt Cult is a roman a clef about author Samuel Finlay’s stint serving in Afghanistan nearly a decade ago, intertwined with a relationship he had with a bibliophilic stripper he met in Montreal just prior to deploying. It’s a delightful black miasma of lust, violence and death, interspaced with Finlay’s own growing realization that everything he believes about America, women and life itself is a bleeding lie.

Were it not for Finlay’s stylistic schizophrenia, Breakfast with the Dirt Cult would be a incredible book; instead, it’s merely a great one.

Appropriately enough, the book begins in Montreal with Tom Walton, Finlay’s literary surrogate, on leave from basic training at Fort Drum. (As an aside, I’d never thought I’d ever see a fellow manospherian reference Fort Drum—or anywhere in upstate New York for that matter—in their writing. I know the place too well: it’s in Watertown, about an hour north of Syracuse, and when my dad was in the military we often found ourselves up there.) The book stumbles almost immediately as Finlay’s experiences run up against his sentimental prose:

Amy’s lithe young body was not that of the hot girl who takes her clothes off for money. It belonged instead to the girl who you wished lived next door, who in her heathen innocence had the decency to make sure the windows were always good and open when she was changing her clothes. The Lord God A’mighty had hand-crafted her out of a bunch of sleek feminine curves all living together in perfect harmony. She looked soft; Walton figured she was soft in ways he’d never heard of. It even extended to her smile, or maybe all the rest came from there in the first place. It emanated a spritely, joyously pagan quality.

Everything about Walton and Amy’s relationship smacks of falseness thanks to the borderline-treacly writing. Beyond the fact that she comes off more like a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold cliche than an actual girl, it’s a jarring shift from the military chapters, which are gloriously written. Finlay depicts army life in all its iniquities and tribulations, with hilarious anecdotes from his comrades and commanding officers:

“… So we’ve established that goddamn sexual harassment isn’t tolerated by the Army,” Sergeant Sparn explained from the front of the dayroom. All of the enlisted personnel of Alpha Company sat in attendance. “But let me ask you a question. Who here likes it when the girl goes down on you? Come on, raise your hands.

“WELL, YOU’RE FUCKING WRONG! That is considered sodomy and is punishable under the United States Code of Military Justice!

“What about fuckin’ a chick in the ass? You know, throwing it in the pudding?

“YOU’RE FUCKING WRONG, HERO! The Missionary Position is the only authorized position under UCMJ!”

Fortunately, after the first chapter, the narrative shifts back to Walton’s training at Fort Drum and his deployment to Afghanistan. Amy remains in the background as Walton’s pen-pal, sending him care packages of books every so often. The army sections of Dirt Cult rest in a Célinean/Bukowskian vein, as Walton and his comrades witness the absurdity of American foreign policy first-hand; I virtually inhaled them in about an hour. The only problem is that Walton will occasionally break voice to go on a annoying missive, such as this anti-feminist tirade inspired by an outing to a Watertown nightclub:

Even medicine had been weaponized. People donated proudly for the cure of breast or ovarian cancer, but few gave a damn about men with tumors in their testicles or prostates. The same was true of parenthood. A girl wanting to “have it all” by being a single mom could seek to adopt, get knocked up, or go the spermcicle route and be considered a champion of progress. (Because she “didn’t need a man.” The Celebrity-Industrial Complex had told her so! Except of course, for her Uncle Sam. She also needed someone watch her child while she was busy focusing on her career. That, and it was nice to have a man around to lift heavy objects. And to perform household maintenance. And to deal with burglars and potential rapists. And to understand that in the event of an emergency, he was to forfeit his life for her and her offspring, because chivalry had died for some reason.)

Dirt Cult’s story takes a dramatic twist midway through, as the action heats up in Walton’s little slice of hell. Unfortunately, it also means he reunites with Amy and the novel’s quality drops off again. Personally, I have difficulty reconciling both parts of the story. In the army chapters, Walton is a tough-talking and solid, if somewhat naive grunt; in the Amy chapters, he devolves into a lovesick chump. Fortunately, as both his relationship and his military career draw to a close, the action heats up again and the book draws to a shocking and chilling close. You just have to wade through boners like this to get there:

“I can respect that. Kinda makes me think of Texas. We Oklahomans are sworn to a Red River blood feud with the Lone Star State as a matter of principle, but I admire the hell out of Texas’s proud tradition of tellin’ the rest of the country, ‘Fuck y’all!’ You know, I never really cared much for French, but after Montreal, I found I kind of liked it. I think when I get out I might have to visit Paris. It’d be all Moulin Rouge ‘n shit.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG. I occasionally hear this line from keyboard jockeys in the ‘sphere and I want to kill it right now.

Quebec is basically West Virginia crossed with Vegas.

There’s nothing “sophisticated” or “cultured” about the place; historically, all the smart French left Canada at the end of the French and Indian War, leaving a land full of inbred idiots and classless slags whose only concern in life is popping out a kid, never mind actually getting married or even having a relationship with the father (Quebec’s marriage and fertility rates are not only the lowest in Canada, but lower than all of the states in the U.S.). Montreal is still dominated by organized crime, and were it not for equalization payments, the provincial government would have had to declare bankruptcy decades ago. Even the French that they speak is half-unintelligible, full of English loanwords and anachronistic structures that have been eliminated from standard French. Quebecois girls have a leg up on American girls because they’re not fat and because of the exoticism factor, but that’s it.

Comparing Montreal to Paris is like comparing Shreveport to London.

This isn’t an attack, by the way; Montreal is one of my favorite cities. But I’m not going to pretend that it’s something that it isn’t. I’ll assume that Finlay’s narrator is speaking from inexperience, but this combined with the overall saccharine writing about Amy really chafed my nuts.

That said, I still highly recommend Breakfast with the Dirt Cult. As a coming-of-age story, a young man’s awakening to the reality of the world, it’s not only (mostly) well-written but unique. When Finlay is at his best, he captures the Slaughterhouse Five-level lunacy of modern America and the unease he had of living through it. Also, given that this is his first book, I can forgive mistakes that much more easily.

I can’t wait to see what Finlay comes up with next.

Click here to buy Breakfast with the Dirt Cult.

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