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The Fighter

by Craig Davidson

Craig Davidson’s previous book, Rust and Bone, was an aversive, acerbic, often bitterly funny collection of stories that explored the extent to which desperate men will go to find some semblance of meaning in their lives. The Fighter, his new novel, about bare-knuckle boxing and bruised masculinity, unleashes a furious volley of body blows – roundhouses, uppercuts, haymakers – in a sustained assault that often reads like the title story from Rust and Bone jacked up on anabolic steroids and protein enhancers.

With its themes of frustrated masculinity and redemption through violence, and the none-too-subtle homoerotic undertones that accrue from semi-naked, sweaty men clinging to each other in a boxing ring, The Fighter wears its literary influences like a championship belt. In particular, it owes an enormous and freely acknowledged debt to Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club. One of Davidson’s characters lives on Paper Street and another has cornflower-blue eyes, both of which are overt references to Palahniuk’s book.

Still, The Fighter never feels hackneyed or derivative, thanks in large part to Davidson’s ability to twist his language into new and startling forms, and to his sheer storytelling verve. He pushes his scenes further than most authors would dare, and is defiantly, refreshingly, unafraid to offend a reader’s sensibilities.

There are people who will be put off by the novel’s violence, which is graphic and relentless. The climactic fight scene goes on for 10 pages and contains some of the grisliest descriptions of physical abuse I’ve come across in fiction. And there’s a sex scene in a motel room that, depending upon your outlook, will either make you laugh out loud or toss the book across the room in disgust.

I found the book’s take-no-prisoners attitude a welcome corrective to the polite, staid, respectable nature of much Canadian fiction these days. The Fighter is a tough, brutal, blood-soaked book that leaves its reader feeling pummelled, battered, and beaten, but nonetheless strangely exhilarated.