Rust and Bone, originally published in 2005, is the first short story collection from Canadian author Craig Davidson. The book comprises eight stories each of differing length, which can be anywhere from 20 to 60 pages. They have no specific theme, but mostly take place in Canada, where Davidson was born. A film adaptation of the collection starring Marion Cotillard was released in the UK earlier this month—although audiences should note that the film and the book share only vague similarities.
Rust and Bone is an excellent example of the art of story-telling. A short story collection written by an author with little patience can quickly start to seem like a tomb for unfinished ideas, but the first and most persistent impression you’ll get from reading Rust and Bone is that these stories, while being perfectly complete in themselves, could easily have filled many more pages.
There’s no obvious theme to the stories, and the characters don’t recur (except on one occasion, which feels a little odd; it’s neither funny nor particularly revelatory, which leads me to think Davidson couldn’t resist the urge to do a crossover). The collection definitely feels cohesive though, and there is some sort of common subject to Davidson’s writing: overcoming guilt, perhaps, or finding a place in the world. Whatever it is, it’s subtly sorrowful, suitably general, and doesn’t demand great examination. From boxers to dog fights, from killer whales to Mexican immigrants, the subject matter of the book is nothing more than the flotsam and jetsam of human experience.
Davidson’s prose style is very accessible and has a kind of artful utility about it, but in itself it is nothing to write home about. The collection seems to have grown in quite a linear way, with a strong sense that the eight stories are in chronological order and that leads me to think that the author experimented a little with various voices initially, but ultimately abandoned these in pursuit of storytelling alone.
The huge success of this book is that each and every story is excellently compelling. The subjects, which taken as a group are diffuse and haphazard, are each chosen and pursued with an incisive vigour which keeps the reader feverishly turning pages until they run out. Davidson may not be a true artist of prose, but he is at least a genius of storytelling.
To sum up
Great literature forces the reader to feel the significance of every word, changing the way we think by manipulating the words that give our thoughts shape. That is not what Davidson has accomplished, but neither is it, I think, what he set out to do. What he has accomplished is an intensely readable short collection of short stories which have little in common, except for a gentle melancholy. Despite the wide appeal that this compelling quality gives the volume it is not without artistry, and since the film bears little resemblance to the book I strongly urge everyone to try this collection—whatever they might think of its long-lost filmic cousin.