I can no longer consciously recall the sound that ice made as it broke. Sometimes I'll hear another noise--the low crumple of a beer can; the squeal of an old nail pried from a sodden plank--similar in some way, timbre or pitch or resonance, and realize it lives somewhere inside me now. I remember the fault line racing out to meet him, a silver crease transecting the ice like a cracked whip. It seemed to advance slowly, a thin sluggish snake zigging and zagging; it was as though I had only to holler "Step back!" and it would rip harmlessly past.
Craig Davidson is the author of four books. Rust and Bone, his debut collection of short stories, is my favorite.
You might recognize the title. Yes, that Rust and Bone film starring Marion Cotillard a few years ago was adapted from Davidson's stories. The film managed to capture the beauty, intensity, and destruction inherent in the prose. It's really quite remarkable as Davidson's style is blunt and brutal.
"Rust and Bone," the title story, is a somber introduction to a far darker collection. The plot is scattered for psychological impact, as are all the stories in the collection. A could-have-been professional boxer is reduced to bare-knuckle fighting wherever anyone will pay him to show up. There are a number of reasons for this all stemming from a tragic lapse in judgment with catastrophic results for his family.
The introductory passage to this entry is the epitome of Davidson's style. There's a meandering Modernist obsession with thought process and extraneous details, connecting elements of the physical surrounding with a heightened, almost superheroic, self-awareness of the presence of the mind in the body in the scene.
I liken it to a wordier Hemingway. There's a bluntness to the language like Papa, combined with hyper-masculine subject matter like boxing, dog fighting, and basketball. Our manly men don't go out and hunt one of every animal anymore; they embrace a damaging masculine ideal of pushing the body to its physical and mental limits in athletics while refusing any strong emotional connection to reality. The feelings in Davidson's stories are implied through an obsession with the physical world.
"Rust and Bone" is a desolate, snowy landscape of tragedy and responsibility. The strengthening of the bones through repeated injury is likened to cracks in the ice. The cold and treacherous journey to backroom brawls is fall down the rabbit hole to rock bottom. The few lines of dialogue in the story are blunt and cold; any attempt at warming up the tone is immediately shut down by everyone else in the scene.
The collection Rust and Bone is a difficult read as each story gets progressively more unpleasant, nay repellent, in its subject matter and protagonists. Still, the opening story "Rust and Bone" is good. I cannot recommend reading it enough.