"Rust and Bone"
(Reviewed by Tony Ross JAN 25, 2007)
Canadian writer Davidson kicks the literary door down with this debut short story collection, which features tough-guy topics as boxing, dog fighting, mangled bodies, sexual addiction, and repo men. The results are rather hit or miss, with some of the stories grittily effective and others wandering their way to weak endings. Five of these previously appeared in Canadian lit journals "The Fiddlehead," "Event," and "Prairie Fire" and the stories are mostly set in Ontario, a locale fairly interchangeable with the upper midwestern U.S.
In general, the best bits of writing occur in those stories in which Davidson is able to show off his skills at writing combat. The title story has some particularly vivid parts, depicting a bare-knuckles fighter who earns his living on an illegal underground circuit. I don't find boxing particularly interesting, but Davidson's blow by blow account of a fight is riveting. In "Life in the Flesh," a boxer who once killed a man in a fight now lives in Thailand where he trains promising boxers sent to him from the States. When a cocky kid shows up in Bangkok, the trainer tries to keep him focused but can't keep him from taking on a local Muay Thai champ. Again, the setup isn't the greatest material, Davidson veers awfully close to the stereotype of Bangkok, but the fight itself is great stuff. "A Mean Utility" delves into the underworld of dog fighting via two unexpected protagonists -- a middle-class white advertising executive and his wife. Experiencing fertility problems, they pour all their attention into their dogs, and the man pushes a young dog into a fight, only to see every father's nightmare unfold before his eyes.
Other stories are rather less compelling. "The Rifleman" is a riff on the typical fanatical father who pushes his son to become a basketball star. The alcoholic father is utterly pathetic, and his son's disdain oozes from the page. "Rocket Ride" is about a young man bitter about losing his leg while working at a marine park, but just peters out. "Friction" is thirty aimless pages about a man whose sexual addiction cost him his family and job, and has drifted into the porn industry and therapy groups. The longest story is "The Apprentice's Guide to Modern Magic," which examines a pair of siblings whose magician father abandoned them as children. And of course, when they track him down years later, as adults, satisfaction and closure prove difficult to come by.
The best complete story is "On Sleepless Roads," in which a sad man leaves his disabled wife at home to work his repo man gig. When he shows up to take an RV one night, he encounters the ad executive from "A Mean Utility," now fallen on tough times. Rather bizarrely, the ad exec is trying to film a children's TV show in his garage, using live animals. The odd couple bond over a night of beers and filming, and the story ends with the kind of beautiful and darkly comic moment that one wishes were more present in the rest of the stories. On the whole, while there are sparkling moments here and there, much of the collection feels like warmed over Chuck Palahniuk -- and indeed, Palahniuk provides a suitable cover blurb, with Thom Jones, Bret Easton Ellis, and Peter Straub weighing in on the back. In fact, that provides a pretty good indication of the intended audience for this collection.
- Amazon readers rating: from 14 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Writing as Patrick Lestewka:
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- Official website for the Craig Davidson
- Identity Theory interview with Craig Davidson
- Web Page for The Fighter
- Torontoist review of The Fighter
- Quill & Quire review of Cataract City
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About the Author:
Craig Davidson was born in Toronto. His stories have been published in The Fiddlehead, Event, Prairie Fire, and SubTerrain. He also writes horror fiction under a pseudonym.
He now lives in Iowa City, Iowa.