Book review: Cataract City by Craig Davidson

A worthwhile, sharply detailed novel—but not for the faint of heart

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Photograph: Lauren Spinelli

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5


By Craig Davidson. Graywolf Press, $16.

In both his work and life, Craig Davidson is known for his grit. His book Rust and Bone was adapted into the acclaimed 2012 film about an affair between a street fighter and an amputee, and in 2007, to publicize his novel The Fighter, he boxed against Jonathan Ames. His latest, Cataract City, continues the author’s dogged theme, recounting a desperate, and often bloody, relationship between two men in Cataract City.

Eschewing a linear narrative, Davidson begins his story as Duncan “Dunk” Diggs finishes an eight-year prison stint and joins his old friend Owen “Dutch” Stuckey in their hometown, on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. This encounter initiates a chain of reminiscences, and the plot, with occasional awkwardness, leaps back and forth between the vignettes of their lives. From the sudden injury of Dunk’s beloved greyhound to Dutch’s tragically short-lived basketball career, the duo’s incessant bad luck seems like a Cataract City curse—one that links back to an early moment when they first faced grim reality: At age 12, the boys were kidnapped and taken to the forest by their hero, a low-profile wrestler named Bruiser Mahoney, and in these chapters, Davidson’s mastery shines. He lights on the putrid bog they squelch through, on the rancid raccoon meat Mahoney feeds them and on the death of Mahoney himself, his booze-and-drug-addled body forcing two prepubescent boys to navigate the Canadian forest alone.

That body and the ensuing death-defying wilderness trek grows hazy through the years, but they denote the boys’ maturation and introduction to adulthood in the bleak Cataract City—a place where kittens are drowned in bags and people age before their time. True to his gritty reputation, Davidson writes fearlessly about cruelty, gleaming cartilage and a friendship built of broken bones.

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