Rust and Bone the movie – from A Prophet director Jacques Audiard – isn’t exactly light-hearted weekend viewing. Accordingly, this book of short stories from which it stemmed, should not be turned to for a soothing, mind-relaxing peruse. The tales of haggard prizefighters, sex addicts and dog fights therein will leave you feeling thoroughly unsettled but ultimately enthralled.
From the pen of young Canadian hotshot Craig Davidson, Rust and Bone evokes clandestine, testosterone-fuelled worlds of aggression with a lightness of touch mastered by very few writers in recent years. It’s little wonder that Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) thinks he’s awesome, as this captures a lot of the (VERY) black humour and imagination of his book and the subsequent Brad Pitt-starring flick.
The eight stories comprising Rust and Bone, most of which are subtly interlinked by unexpected details, home in on controversial subcultures and reproachable characters. Characters you find repellant for the most part, but warm to at surprising points. It might have been fodder for horrifically hackneyed storytelling, were it not for Davidson’s compelling, non-cliched narrative style. The simple truth is he’s a fantastically good writer; the extremes of underground dogfighting, the porn industry and bare-knuckled boxing are depicted evocatively without coming across as remotely pantomimed.
The back-and-forth pattern adopted by most of the stories – switching between past and present, from scenario to scenario, or between action and book passages as seen in The Apprentice’s Guide To Modern Magic – makes for a snappy but thought-provoking read, maintaining your attention with different ideas without scrimping on depth.
Evident throughout is Davidson’s research into the covert worlds he writes about, all of which are laced with considered knowledge and attention to interesting details. Moreover, his selection of scenarios is so colourful that each story invokes a genuine ‘ohh hello…’, leaning-forward-sinking-into-your-seat reflex. Diving into the world of an orca trainer in Rocket Ride, for example, and the horrific situation he finds himself in; a fighting coach and his protege in Bangkok, or the evolving lives of a wayward, sensational magician’s children… Save one or two moments involving hardened fighters grappling with the world, none of it is predictable and yet it’s all instantly, consistently engaging.
The uncompromising willingness to cover hairy/gory/less-than-delicate details will doubtless put off some readers. But they’ll be poorer for it, as this a triumph of creativity and literary prowess. Well done Craig.
Rust and Bone is now available from all good booksellers.
Polly Glass @Polly_Glass