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Rust and Bone: Stories

by Craig Davidson

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1276218,975 (3.68)6
In steel-tipped prose, Craig Davidson conjures up a bleak world populated by hardscrabble pugilists, fighting dogs, sex addicts, and others held captive by their own bad luck and bad decisions. Visceral and with a dark urgency, Rust and Bone is a strikingly original debut.

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  adrianburke | May 9, 2021 |
All of the protagonists in this short story collection—from the sympathetic repo man with a conscience (“On Sleepless Roads”) to the deceptively genteel upper middle class suburbanite with a warped sense of fatherhood and canine love (“A Mean Utility”)—either suffer from some debilitating character flaw or suffer some life-altering calamity and populate a grim universe with little hope for improvement. Incredibly, whether out of sublime optimism or wildly inappropriate perceptions of reality, these characters manage to survive and rationalize their conditions. Davidson’s collection is impressive, in part, because of his uncanny ability to lay bare the grotesque details of these flawed lives while simultaneously weaving powerful stories of twisted redemption. Some sly references within a few of these stories intertwine the characters’ lives (Davidson’s Canada is a small-scale postmodern update of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County), and some of these stories are better than others. But that’s kind of like saying some chocolates in a box of Godiva are better than others—their quality varies by such a small degree that only devouring the entire box will leave you with a sense of its overall excellence. ( )
1 vote jimrgill | Dec 29, 2013 |
All the stories in this collection take place in that cinematic world of down-and-outs where people have to repossess prosthetic limbs for a living to pay their wife's medical bills. It's the kind of hardscrabble, booze-soaked, Oedipal world where Annie Proulx's barren, rigid characters wouldn't feel out of place. The sort of world only middle class liberals can be guilted and titillated into believing exists.

However, the collection keeps its head above the hyper-masculine water by focusing squarely on physical disability and the relationships between humans and animals. In some stories, such as "A Mean Utility," Davidson explores nothing more interesting than the instrumental human/animal relationships we're all used to, but sometimes, "Rocket Ride" in particular, we get the sense that maybe we feel most whole when we're at the mercy of creatures we can't own. Interested to see what the movie does with the disability theme.

Also, I pretty much wish the title story "Rust and Bone," which is about a man trying to make amends for a freak accident he was involved in 15 years before by getting himself gnarled in unsanctioned boxing matches, was the whole book (despite being asked to swallow whoppers like "Mexican fighters often hopped the border on the night they were to fight, winding up at [the fight venue] soaked from the swim and gashed from razor wire, sometimes pursued by feral dogs roaming the lowlands.") ( )
  knownever | Dec 29, 2012 |
As a collection, Rust & Bone is problematic. Davidson is deft with a phrase and has his finger on the truth. But this collection of stories featuring washed up boxers, drunks, repo men, amputees and sex addicts begins to strain its credibility. It becomes simply too much.

Any of these stories stands well on its own. The characters are memorable and their stories contain brilliant flashes of humour. But mid-way through the collection, one can't help but feel that Davidson is piling it on too thick. You imagine him sequencing the stories: think that protagonist was degraded, do ya? How about this, then: an exploding penile prosthesis. How'd ya like them apples? Some of it is unmistakably gratuitous, an attempt to stake out a position as a writer who can shock. And that is Davidson's weakness.

Richard Ford's early novels contain bouts of violence that are utterly absent from his later novels and his acclaimed short stories. Thomas McGuane's early novels are full of smart-aleck wordplay and wild, larger than life situations that over time became more muted. Young writers rely on bold strokes and bright colours; with skill and maturity their pallette becomes more muted, their brush strokes more subtle.

You have to hope the same process will temper Davidson's penchant for depravity. Notably, the final story of the collection is a break from the rest. "The Apprentice's Guide to Modern Magic" is the most emotionally complex story of the collection. It's also the only one written in the third person, where Davidson's prose is less assured.

Whatever the numbing effect of these stories as a whole, though, individually they are very good. "Rust & Bone" and "On Sleepless Roads," in particular, stand out.
1 vote ajsomerset | Sep 6, 2008 |
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In steel-tipped prose, Craig Davidson conjures up a bleak world populated by hardscrabble pugilists, fighting dogs, sex addicts, and others held captive by their own bad luck and bad decisions. Visceral and with a dark urgency, Rust and Bone is a strikingly original debut.

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