Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Got Around To: "The Fighter" by Craig Davidson

Got Around To: The Fighter by Craig Davidson, 2007, 9781569474655.

I read Davidson's brutal little collection of short stories in Rust and Bone. We received Fighter in Jan of '08 and Jacob the Page read it and said it was good but brutal. I saw it on the shelf a couple weeks ago and took it home. It was good: above average but not fantastic. I liked the two sex scenes.

Paul Harris is a rich, snotty 26 year old Canadian. He has lived a life of privilege under his winery owning parents and can be a real snot. When barhopping with a girl he doesn't even like much he insults a boots-wearing working stiff who was hitting on her. The stiff ends up beating a couple teeth and most of Harris' dignity and self-worth out of him. Harris' intense fear during the beating changes him.

Paul was never happy with his do-nothing job at the winery and was just going through the motions in life: finish high school, go to college, work at the winery, keep the same upper-class pals, eventually marry and take over the business. Instead, Paul leaves his office and starts picking grapes, driving his car aimlessly each night, starts lifting weights and taking steroids. He impulsively stops at a boxing club, joins up, and starts training seven hours a day.

Meanwhile, across the border in Niagara, sixteen year old Rob Tully is a naturally gifted and hard training amateur boxer. His father sees boxing as a Rob's chance to escape a dead-end town. Rob's skills are well known but he only trains for family's sake (his father and uncle are both in the fight game).

Anyway... There are parallels of young guys bucking their planned paths. Meanings of manhood and fear. Family obligation and personal choice. Rob's uncle brain dead from an underground boxing competition at the hands of Paul. Paul and Rob fighting at that same underground club.

That description can sound like a nice, clean YA novel with hugs and kisses in the end. Not so. Paul Harris is self-destructiveness and takes massive beatings hoping to transcend both pain and fear. He goes into a steroid rage almost killing a guy during a paintball game. He steal from his parents, shoots up steroids, gets his nostril capillaries cauterized to prevent easy bleeding, and more. Paul never looks for the guy who beat the crap out of him before. The guy at hand is never an issue - it is Paul's transformation during and afterwards that matters.

Rob is a pretty good kid. He does him homework and trains hard. But, even he comes to a breaking point and mutilates his hands to end his career.

Davidson themes I remember from before: Competing definitions of manliness with fisticuffs versus hard work and supporting your family. The fragility of hand bones and their importance to boxers. Poor people getting by and boxing as a family trade or hobby.

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