Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson

Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson

Postby CAP » Sat Apr 13, 2013 3:51 pm

This has been republished as a tie-in with the movie by Jacques Audiard and I read it curious to see how much the central relationship between Stephanie and Ali is based on the book. The answer is not at all. Actually the book (originally published 2006) is a collection of ten short stories set in North America (the movie is set in France) and all Audiard took from it is the figure of a prize fighter and a terrible accident on a frozen lake with the fighter’s young son, from the first story – Rust and Bone. This is combined with a crippling encounter with a killer whale that occurs in the fourth story, Rocket Ride. But there the victim is a young man who performs spectacular acrobatics upon the whales, and the outcome is distinctly bitter. So combining these scattered elements and structuring a romance around them with a female character named Stephanie is all the work of Audiard and his co-writer Thomas Bidegain.

I’d probably have found this out if I’d surfed around a little more, but it was sort of interesting to look at source material anyway. Received wisdom is that B-grade books often make the best films; that their lack of literary qualities allows for more satisfactory ‘transcriptions’. You can get to the bare bones of a story easier, do more with it. Of course a story is never going to be the same as a movie in any case – the experience of reading is so different from viewing – but it also depends what you’re looking for in a story. I take it Audiard was impressed by the freakishness of the whale accident and the fighter’s helplessness in rescuing his young son from a frozen lake. But he instantly sees how this crushes the character’s world, wants to trace the consequences. In Davidson’s hands however, the focus is more upon the macabre and damaging. He’s not looking long term, not even long story. He’s preoccupied by the mechanics of the events, the gory detail. Character is scarcely even discernible under the plodding assembly of research and background. Relationships are so vague and distant they are dealt with in comfortable platitudes, clever conversation. The first person narratives never find a voice, ultimately lack conviction. There is something essentially juvenile and crude about much of the book, not so much at the level of prose – they’re competent enough as creative writing exercises – but at a deeper level of engagement, the author’s own sensitivities and perceptions. He is, essentially a macho shithead.

It’s true, he edits a body-building magazine for a day job. Obviously he’s just not my kind of writer. Davidson admires writers like Chuck Palahniuk (The Fight Club) – maybe Davidson’ll turn out to be gay, like Chuck. Might explain a few things. He also admires Brett Easton Ellis and Denis Johnson (or Dennis - as it's spelt on my copy of Already Dead) – well Johnson I did like… up until Tree of Smoke, where I think he was plainly out of his depth. But the earlier stuff was great. Did you ever see the film of Jesus’ Son? Awesome – includes a cameo by the novelist – and best thing Samantha Morton ever did. I wonder what Audiard thinks of Johnson? You want outsiders - Denis is your go-to man. Anyway Davidson’s never going to be in that league. The other stories in Rust and Bone are about another boxer, a dog fighter, repo man, sex addict and the last and longest – the abandoned children of a retired magician. They track down their father, once adults, to be thoroughly disillusioned. That’s the only story that doesn’t pivot on demonstrations of intimidation and guilt and tellingly, centres on the trick of completely disappearing. These are not great options.

Give it 5 :|
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Re: Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson

Postby Jiminy » Mon Apr 15, 2013 6:03 am

Very interesting stuff, thanks. I do remember Jesus Son. it was indeed very good, I never knew it had anything to do with Denis Johnston though, cheers!
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Re: Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson

Postby CAP » Mon Apr 15, 2013 12:15 pm

Yes Jesus’ Son was a 1991 publication of 11 short stories by Johnson, more or less linked by the same first person narrator. In the 1999 movie you might remember the incident when an older guy with the knife embedded in his right-eye socket, comes into the hospital where the hero is working as an orderly. That was a cameo by Johnson.
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Re: Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson

Postby Craig » Mon May 20, 2013 12:38 am

Macho Shithead. That's a little harsh, man. And yeah, this is the macho shithead who wrote the book.
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Re: Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson

Postby CAP » Mon May 20, 2013 6:26 am

Just kidding about the macho shithead part Craig. :)

There's no way of knowing if it really is Craig Davidson - buff Canadian hunk of intense and beautiful prose - of course, anymore than we believe Natalie Frank or Matthew Ritchie would bother with an obscure open source site like this, ranting on with its self-important drivel. C'mon guys, tell me you're not so insecure or bored you have to google this dreck and take it seriously? Don't you people know about Facebook?

Then again it does sort of make it more entertaining, don't you think? ;)
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Re: Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson

Postby Craig » Mon May 20, 2013 12:49 pm

Ah, well, no worries. bugged me for like 20 seconds, which was the 20 seconds in which I wrote that reply. That said, I've talked with other writers about this, and yeah, lots do come across reviews of their work in all sorts of venues. A bad review from the NY Times (which I also received, so you're in good company) can ultimately be as painful as one from some other spot—a review's a review: one person's opinion of your work, and I don't put a primacy on where that review appears. Anyway, it's no biggie. R&B's certainly not a masterwork, but—and again, I've talked to other writers about this—most of us take whatever thimbleful of talent we've got and ply it in such a way that we can, y'know, make a living hopefully, write stuff that seems genuine to us, support our families if possible and find success at whatever level our talent (and more importantly for many, our hard work and ability to hoover up rejection and move on) can take us. I mean, years ago I read a review where someone read something of mine and said since the synopsis reminded them of THE ROAD, they were expecting McCarthy. Well, I'm not going to hold up well under that comparison. Very few writers will. Again, I'm really not thin-skinned—I think this is the second time in my life I've ever said boo about a review—but yeah, in this Internet age, you'd be surprised how often a writer comes across reviews on sites like this and elsewhere. Take care, Craig.
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Re: Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson

Postby CAP » Tue May 21, 2013 12:17 am

Remember Craig - 'There's no such thing as bad publicity'. Any review in the NYT (or WWR) is recognition.

But Audiard's endorsement I suspect goes to the heart of the matter. Those freaky moments are what you're getting right. You might not develop them the way I'd like, but they're the diamonds in your mine, for sure.
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