This very unusual collection of short stories is compelling, to say the least. Davidson tackles a number of emotional issues, setting them against unlikely backgrounds: boxing, dog-fighting, abusive parents. It is the brutal and unflinching nature of the settings that provide the challenge, daring the reader to stare into a bloody canvas of nature’s indifference and frequent brutality.
The title story, “Rust and Bone,” sets the collection’s tone, a brilliant juxtaposition of the world’s raw beauty with the harsh reality of living in the real world. A young prizefighter takes the punches, throwing himself into the ring, learning over the years the lure and very temporary rewards of the fighter’s life, disciplined and self-¬aware. Unexpected loss knocks him to his knees, his tough spirit brought low from that which he cannot control, a permanent scar that sears his soul.
Arguably one of the tougher stories, “A Mean Utility” provides the harsh details of dog fighting. Through his interaction with one of his fighting animals, a man comprehends fatherhood, albeit indirectly and after much gore. Filled with a particular brutality, the man’s comprehension is bathed in the blood of violence, an arena inhabited by a disturbing breed of humanity.
A father’s lifelong obsession with his talented son’s basketball skills defines their relationship in “The Rifleman,” the man relentless as he pushes his son toward greatness. Predictably, the father’s drunkenness overrides anything good between himself and his son, poisoning each event with violence, turning the relationship into a parody. Daily the son angles away from his father’s boozy interference, the older man left babbling in a haze of memories and rationalization, his sour breath an ill wind of failure.
The stories don’t get any easier, and the reader cannot help but squirm with discomfort. Davidson takes bites out of life, spitting them back with impunity in prose that is both difficult to read and masterfully written, a Bosch painting in language, challenging the reader not to look away.
With amazing skill, the writer blends ugliness with everyday life, pushing his protagonists out of their comfort zones and on to personal revelation. Not for the faint of heart, anyone tough enough to persevere will be rewarded by Rust and Bone, quite an accomplishment.