SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2021 TRILLIUM BOOK AWARDS
From the bestselling author of The Saturday Night Ghost Club and Canada Reads-finalist Precious Cargo comes this supremely satisfying collection of stories.
Reminiscent of Stephen King's brilliantly cinematic short stories that went on to inspire films such as The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me, here's a collection crackling with Craig Davidson's superb craft and kinetic energy: in the visceral, crystalline, steel-tipped prose; in the psychological perspicacity; and in the endearing humour.
Set in in the Niagara Falls of Davidson's imagination known as "Cataract City," the superb stories of Cascade shine a shimmering light on this slightly seedy, slightly magical, slightly haunted place. The six gems in this collection each illuminate familial relationships in a singular way: A mother and her infant son fight to survive a car-crash in a remote wintry landscape outside of town. Fraternal twins at a juvenile detention center reach a dangerous crisis point in their entwined lives. A pregnant social worker grapples with the prospect of parenthood as a custody case takes a dire turn. A hard-boiled ex-firefighter goes after a serial arsonist with a flair for the theatrical even as his own troubled sister is drawn towards the flames. These are just some of the unforgettable characters animating this stellar collection of tales--Davidson's first in 15 years, since Rust and Bone, which inspired a Golden Globe-nominated film.
About the author
Craig Davidson is a Canadian author of short stories and novels, who has published work under both his own name and the pen names Patrick Lestewka and Nick Cutter. His style has been compared to that of Chuck Palahniuk.
- Short-listed, Trillium Book Award
Excerpt: Cascade (by (author) Craig Davidson)
Stars. Fractured star-sprays and burning constellations . . . galaxies radiating like spokes on a wheel, their epicentres—the suns—dancing pinpricks of kaleidoscopic brightness.
The steady trickle of salt water dripping in a sea-cave. Lurking behind it: the hiss of a serpent sidewinding over wet rocks.
“Uh . . . hwwwuuugnnh . . .”
. . . you were born into dread, my son . . .
A fairytale giant has collected my blood in a glass globe he wears strung round his neck. The giant laughs, his paving-stone teeth flashing, as I beg for my blood back . . .
A sudden, buzzing pinworm of pain corkscrews through me. The wire cools. It is someone else’s pain now. I’m only holding onto it. Far off, the giant is still laughing.
Snap to with a snort.
I’m suspended upside down, belted into the passenger seat of our car. A Volvo: boxy, brooding, Swedish. Snow is piled against the windshield; cold granules of sunlight petal through the shattered glass. Gravity pulls my knee-caps down; my feet are wedged beneath the glovebox and my wrists bent back against the roof upholstery.
“Dan . . .”
The airframe sparkles with powder from the deployed airbags. The Volvo has an embarrassment of them—a number that struck me as farcical in the austere showroom. Now the interior is draped with deflated alien spore-bags, satiny-white, and my lips are caked with xenomorph eggs. There’s an acid burn in my sinuses—did I throw up? No: that’s antifreeze. I’ve been at enough accident scenes to recognize the smell. It must be trickling through the vents with its greasy, burnt-animal stink.
I try turning my head—a wire buzzes with such intensity that it shocks a strangled scream out of me. In the rearview I catch sight of something inverted in the backseat like a little hangman. A pocket-sized executioner with a white hood over his face. A cold lunar silence weeps from the driver’s side. I can think of no good reason to look directly at that ghastly quiet next to me—Why, when it would be so easy? a sharp-toothed voice urges. Just turn your head a smidge and . . .
When I move my left arm, the pain is mammoth. I reach cross-body with my right hand to unlock the seatbelt. My fingers are senseless pegs riveted to my palm. I thumb the button but nothing happens. The lock’s jammed.
The hangman in the backseat emits a consumptive snuffling like a Pekinese with a sinus problem. He broods back there—in every un-noosed neck he sees an opportunity lost.
The belt is cinched tight across my shoulder. My entire body feels like it’s resting on one fragile joint. There’s a Leatherman in the glovebox. I try to heel off my boot before realizing it’s already gone: both boots must’ve been flung off in the . . . my knee brushes the stereo knob and the cab fills with the insane screech of the Doodlebops, their helium voices turning cat-yowly before cutting out.
With one big toe, I pop the latch. The glovebox jars open, spilling oil-change receipts and the Leatherman, which strikes my incisors and floods my mouth with the taste of rolled nickels. I retrieve it from the roof and fumble the blade open. Blood pools in my skull; the pressure must be turning my face as red as skinned meat.
It’s taxing work cutting through the belt. The wire buzzes hotly until the severed strap hisses through the belt’s eyelet. I complete a graceless backwards somersault and in that frictionless second, my head swivels to force a confrontation with the scene I’ve been avoiding.
Ahhhh, breathes the sharp-toothed one. Isn’t that a treat.
A tree limb is spiked through the Volvo’s windshield; the safety glass is crumbled around the hole it made entering our world. The branch pierced the driver’s-side airbag—shreds of white ballistic nylon still cling to its bark—before carrying on into Dan’s . . .
Oh, I remember this tree. I’d seen it lurking within a copse of its brethren just off the unplowed corduroy road. A tree waiting on this very chance with one of its branches projecting at a perfect ninety-degree angle: a straight jab of oak encased in transparent ice, its end whittled by sun and wind until only the hardest stuff remained. The heart-wood, it’s called.
That branch is now married to Dan’s face. His head is tilted back, his throat shorn by the wood running on its unbending plane: his neck and the branch form an inverted capital “T.”
Later, maybe I’ll have an opportunity to lie about how coldly I accept my husband’s death. At the funeral home with Dan’s pale-eyed father, both of us standing over his son’s coffin. I doubt I’ll ever come to grips with it, you know? But before the back of my skull even hits the dome-light I am reconciled to the fact, and moving past it.
I land on the stem of my neck, and my left side explodes in white-hot fireworks. I plant my feet on the windshield and push, snapping off the rearview mirror as I worm between the front seats to the little hangman suspended upside-down in his car seat.
“It’s okay, baby. Mommy’s here.”
Charlie is fastened by a meshwork of straps with his head socked between two fabric bananas. When we drove home from the hospital with him two months ago, Charlie’s head hung at a terrifying cockeyed angle on his neck. Yikes, that looks painful, Dan said. That afternoon he fixed the bananas in place.
My son’s bib has flipped down over his face but when I lift it, his face is unbloodied and his eyes bright. He sits jack-knifed at the hips—he has the shocking elasticity exclusive to babies and Balkan contortionists—his bootied feet folding down to touch his forehead. He’s so quiet it’s easy to believe he’s dead, but infants make you believe they’re either dead or just about to die several times a day. The moment I reach for him blood begins to foam out of his nose, as if my fingertips released it. It bubbles up from the cups of his nostrils and falls the wrong way down his face to collect in his eyes. But my son doesn’t make a sound.
Bracing one hand on his seat’s carry-bar, I stretch my foot up to pop the release catch. The seat falls painfully onto my chest. Wheezing, I thumb one of Charlie’s eyelids open: pupil dilated, the whites wormed with broken corpuscles. I probe his fingers through his tiny mittens, then move up each of his arms. Toes, feet, legs. Okay, okay, okay . . . I loosen the straps so he can breathe freely.
As a paramedic with the Niagara General Hospital, I’ve attended accidents like this. The first thing you learn is that you can’t save everyone. You must cradle a brutal stone of expediency in your heart.
I rest with Charlie on my chest. Now that his nose has stopped bleeding, he roots at my breast through my jacket. Snow is piled at the Volvo’s windows. Above the snow lies a slit of paling winter sky. The dashboard is lit, which means the battery’s not dead. Okay. I thumb the window button; the glass rises into its rubber flap with Swedish precision. I inhale pulverizing, cold air. It’s early December and the world is locked in an arctic freeze.
Digging with my elbows, I shove myself though the window. The snow is the dry powdery kind that falls during a cold snap. Unzipping my jacket, I slip a hand under my shirt. The wing-shaped bone running from my neck to outer shoulder is broken. The break-ends shift against one another to create a nausea-inducing buzz.
It’s bearable. Now get moving.
This voice belongs to an ancient village hag who sleeps on the bones of her enemies.
I can chart the Volvo’s path across the snow in the ashy late-afternoon sunlight: where we’d hit a patch of black ice and began to skip across the snow merrily as a stone over a frozen lake. Dan’s face comes back to me as it had been the instant before impact: mashing the brake pedal, darting a queasy glance at me as if to say, Sorry, babe, have this sorted in a flash. The Volvo must have flipped onto its roof before we slammed into the tree, its hood accordioning— “Volvos are designed to crumple in zones of lesser consequence,” the dealer told us.
I stand in the two-hundred-foot wake of the crash. Tufts of brown grass poke through the snow crust. Around us, the landscape unfolds in shades of igneous metal: pewter sky, sun lowering behind banks of steel-edged clouds like a Mylar balloon losing air. We’re thirty miles outside Cataract City, my birthplace.
PRAISE FOR CASCADE
"A brilliant collection. Davidson's prose is very sharp but never only sharp; it is alive, it is limpid, it is darkly funny and it never hides or shies from love. . . . Read this collection now." —Amy Bloom, author of White Houses
“Cascade is the rare collection in which there is not a single false note. In these six harrowing stories, Craig Davidson illuminates the hidden corners of Niagara Falls, and the private mysteries and griefs of his characters, with kinetic urgency and gritty compassion. Cascade is a sweeping and remarkable work of art.” —Lauren van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel
“Davidson’s stories retain their immediacy and gut-level emotion while also allowing for a lyricism in the writing that elevates the subject matter. . . . The point is in the small moments, the careful attention to detail and emotional resonance that Davidson is so good at in his short stories.” —Toronto Star
“Reading Davidson is a visceral experience: the language fractures and insinuates, sentences fragmenting and distorting as they reflect the movements of both the narratives and their characters.” —Quill & Quire
PRAISE FOR CRAIG DAVIDSON
“Craig Davidson is one of this country’s great kinetic writers.” —The Globe and Mail
“What’s so fascinating about Davidson’s fiction is its ambivalence: he’s simultaneously satirizing and celebrating outsized manliness. He creates a safe space to interrogate masculinity on masculine terms—his books are boys’ clubs, where protagonists play at being men in order to understand just what it might mean to be one. Set aside the jacked-up gore and fantastical scenarios, and Davidson’s art becomes an imitation of life.” —Emily Keeler, Toronto Life
“Viscerally exciting and deeply thoughtful . . . powerfully written and satisfies at every level.” —Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize on The Saturday Night Ghost Club
“An examination, like most good literature is, of how we live our lives.” —Toronto Star on The Saturday Night Ghost Club