Fredericton-based writer Craig Davidson’s 2006 book The Preserve, written under the pseudonym Patrick Lestewka, was a horror novel set in northern Canada. Under his own name, he published the more literary Rust and Bone in 2005 and The Fighter in 2007. With Sarah Court, Davidson has combined his literary talents with his interest in the horror genre to produce a complex array of tightly woven stories, each narrated by a resident of the eponymous housing complex north of Niagara Falls.
All six narrators’ voices are interesting in their own way, but they sometimes blur together, especially when they recount the same events from multiple perspectives. The section narrated by Fletcher Burger, for example, reads a lot like a manic version of another narrator, Wesley Hill. The heart of this book, though, is former boxer Nick Saberhagen and his son Dylan. Davidson doesn’t spare them the havoc he wreaks on his other characters, but he writes about them with a tenderness and humour that sets them apart. Though at times wildly disturbing, Nick’s story keeps the book grounded.
There are supernatural elements to Sarah Court, and while they are genuinely terrifying in their strangeness, they remain peripheral. What’s truly horrific is the mundane: Fletcher Burger destroys his daughter with his obsessive plans, and Frank Saberhagen nearly does the same to his son.
Davidson has a gift for writing about physicality, and violence in particular, with an ecstasy and intimacy that resembles A.S. Byatt on painting or Ray Robertson on music. In his hands a weightlifting accident or boxing match becomes an experience lived rather than described.
Davidson’s characters are all wrecked. A great many of them suffer brain damage from oxygen deprivation, which is symbolic of how they’ve lived: bullied, manipulated, made vulnerable by unrealistic physical goals, wedged into lives shaped by others’ expectations, and given no room to breathe. Davidson refuses to hold the reader’s hand through any of the often heartbreaking consequences, making Sarah Court, for all its emphasis on the physical and the grotesque, a book of devastating emotional power.