Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: Sarah Court by Craig Davidson

Originally this was going to be in Broken Pencil. Now I'm not so sure. Anyway, it's a book that deserves to be read, so I'm just posting the review here. Salut.

* * *

Sarah Court
By Craig Davidson
ChiZine Publications
308 pages

Reviewed by Andrew MacDonald

Populated by a surprisingly endearing rogues gallery of boxers, drifters, sex addicts, basketball dads, dog fighters, and repo men, Craig Davidson's debut collection, Rust and Bone, was a stiff knee to the groin. Painful to read but, in some bizarre way, utterly mind-bending. When I heard Davidson's new collection, Sarah Court, had just been released from estimable publisher ChiZine, I stocked up on some frozen peas, bought a bottle of cheap rye, and sat down for what I hoped would be a visceral, testicle-swelling experience.

Sarah Court follows five families living on a single squirrel-saturated block a stone's throw from Niagara. You have daredevil Colin, dead set on going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. A few doors down neighbours Saberhagen and Fletch Burger throw their children into a boxing ring and call for blood. Meanwhile shoplifting Patience, her basement famously destroyed by a local pyromaniac, discovers a toilet-bobbing infant in the local department store's loo. And there's a box that might contain a demon, too.

Heady stuff? Yes ma'am. Good writing? You bet your ass.

Present are all of Davidson's pet themes: failing fathers and flailing sons, the relentless clawing to absolution, an utter disregard for the frailties of the human body. Short of Barbara Gowdy, nobody else in Canada writes about the down and out with Davidson's signature blend of tenderness and tough love.

If I could venture a single whisper of criticism, it would be that too often characters blur together. Maybe it's because they all speak a uniquely Davidson dialect: terse half-sentences followed by insanely rich, almost imagistic figurative observations. It's no knock on the stories themselves, each of which stands tall in its own right. As an interwebbed collection, though, they gel a bit too much, if you get my drift.

I refuse to end with criticism of any flavor, though. Sarah Court is just that good. Canada needs more Davidson. Help facilitate more Davidson by buying this book, reading it on the subway, and showing it to people who like to read. Or people who don't like to read. Like Chuck Palahniuk, Irvine Welsh, and Charles Bukowski, writers to whom Davidson is often compared, he possesses the unique ability to make readers out of high school drop outs and grease-spattered fry cookers. And while Sarah Court will inevitably deliver a few dodgy uppercuts to your kidneys and gut, the organ it will expertly, lovingly abuse is your my heart.

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