“Fans of Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh will relish the graphic fight sequences and gritty social commentary” in this novel about two very different young men (Rocky Mountain News).
Everything has been handed to Paul Harris, the son of a wealthy southern Ontario businessman. But after a vicious beating shakes his world, he descends into the realm of hardcore bodybuilders and boxing gyms, seeking to become a real man, reveling in suffering.
Rob Tully, a working-class teenager from upstate New York, is a born boxer. He trains with his father and uncle, who believe a gift like his can change their lives—but he struggles under the weight of their expectations.
Now these two young men’s paths are about to cross . . .
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About the Author
Craig Davidson was born in Toronto and now lives in Calgary, Alberta. He is the author of the acclaimed short story collection Rust and Bone, which was published by W.W. Norton in the US, Penguin in Canada, Albin Michel in France, and Picador in the UK.
Read an Excerpt
Paul Harris turned to catch a fist that smashed the left side of his face along the angular ridge of jaw and rocked him through a padded burgundy door tacked with tiny brass rivets. Busted hinges, a shower of toothpicked wood, and he was reeling out into cold early autumn air.
Wiry weeds touched with frost jutted from sidewalk cracks. Streetlight reflected off office windows, windshields, and beer caps sunken in opaque puddles along the curb. Paul grasped the stalk of a parking meter and hauled himself up. Shock-sweat fused his hand to the chilled metal: when he pulled free, pinpricks of blood welled on his palm.
A pair of rough hands gripped the back of his camel-hair coat and shoved him up against the canopy of a late-model Jeep. His face mashed to the translucent window, Paul's nose filled with the antiseptic, plasticky smell of inflatable pool toys.
A clubbing blow sent him to the ground again. He backed away on his palms and heels, skittering like a sand crab. The world acquired a pinkish tinge, the buildings and streets and cars spun from cotton candy.
His attacker's shoulders were broad and dense with muscle, tapering to a supple waist and lean hips. His boots boomed like hooves on the broken cement.
"Gonna split your wig, bud."
Paul struggled to understand how all this had happened. He'd been to the club before; it was as classy as could be found in his hometown of St. Catharines, a depressed shipbuilding community sprawled along the banks of Lake Ontario. He and his date had come from a production of The Tempest in Niagara-on-the-Lake; neither had enjoyed or even quite understood it, but everyone they knew had seen it and they felt compelled. Faith, his date, was skinny, her eyes cored too deeply into her face; the pair of sunken pits between her collarbones were deep enough to collect rainwater. He found her about as interesting as an outdated periodontal health brochure, the sort he might have flipped through in his dentist's waiting room, and he was certain she felt the same about him — not that it mattered, as she was the daughter of one of his father's business cronies. Like feudal times: a sack of gold coins and ten head of cattle to take my daughter off my hands. Except nowadays you got forty percent equity in a chain of gelato parlors and the summer place on Lake Muskoka. How did it all end? Paul could guess: with the bloodlines all fucked, with runny-nosed mongoloids kicking big red balls around the offices of Fortune 500 companies. That's how.
Point being: the club was upscale. A well-stocked wine cellar. A tastefully understated tapas menu: Oysters Rockefeller, Wild Mushroom Croustades with Fennel. And yet here he was being slammed up against an aluminum shopfront, water trickling off the eaves and soaking his hair. This bastard's knuckles pressed into his throat, this asshole's knee driven into his crotch so hard he puked a gutful of single-malt scotch. And here were heads popping from apartment windows, people occurring in shadowed doorways and from bars.
"Gonna bash your face to fucking pulp."
Strung together into a single word: Gonnabashyafacetafuckinpulp.
How the hell did this happen? Walk it back to the beginning.
After he and Faith had secured a booth Paul excused himself to take a piss. He ran into Drake Langley, an old prep school classmate. Drake wore a suit of lush dark fabric — padded velour? — that made him look like a sofa cushion. Drake worked for his father, same as Paul worked for his father, same as just about all the guys from school worked for their fathers.
"Hey, hey, hey ..." Blasted, Drake pawed Paul's jacket like a needy golden retriever. "Did you hear the one," he gulped, "about the guy?"
Paul replied that no, he hadn't heard the one about the guy.
Drake slopped half a mouthful of Macallan down his shirtfront; no matter how expensive the liquor, Paul thought, a cheap drunk is still a cheap drunk. "So this guy, he's living at home with his sickly widower father and he needs a woman to keep him company. Okay?"
Paul nodded, irritated. Did Drake think he was giving a lecture on astrophysics and needed to pause so that Paul could absorb this complex information?
"So he goes to this bar and sees this chick with a rack like — bam!" Drake held his hands out a goodly distance from his chest. "And an ass like a Polynesian dancer. So the guy goes up to her and he says, Right now I'm not much to write home about. But in a month or two my old man is going to kick the bucket and I'm gonna inherit millions. So the woman goes home with him that night — and four days later she becomes his stepmother!"
Paul managed a weak chortle. Drake's face froze with mortal fear: it was as though he'd come to understand the full implication of the joke and it terrified him. He grabbed Paul's elbow. "You know what I'm gonna do tonight, Harris? I'm gonna take one of these slags home" — the liberal sweep of his arm suggested that the club was brimming with said slags — "and I'm gonna eat her ass like French vanilla ice cream. What do you think of them apples?"
The bathroom attendant was black. Why were they always black? Dressed in a faded olive-tone suit, the guy's skin looked like cheap chocolate — like a fine layer of chalk dust had settled over it. His eyes were yellowed and Paul felt he ought to be home in bed. He looked like an Uncle Tom. Not that Paul would ever call him that; he only meant that if you put the bathroom attendant in a lineup with a bunch of other black guys and asked anyone to pick the one who fit the stereotype, well, this poor guy hit about every note. After pissing he felt poorly for thinking this and left ten bucks in the tip jar.
He returned to find his date in conversation with some townie asshole. The guy blocked the booth; he leaned over the table like a hillbilly tycoon buying up cheap real estate.
"Introduce me to your friend, Faith?" Paul said, slipping past the townie to sit down.
"We've barely introduced —"
"She's being coy." Paul offered his hand. "Paul Harris."
Todd was a stocky unshaven shitkicker. Paul hadn't bothered to look at his feet but assumed they were clad in steel-toed boots; when he moved on, Paul was certain he'd leave a pile of debris behind. He pictured Todd's home: a trailer jacked up on cinderblocks. Engine parts laid out on oil-sodden newspapers. It struck Paul that he was infinitely richer and more successful than this poor slob; the knowledge actually filled him with a bizarre kind of pity.
"You with her?" Todd wanted to know.
"That's beside the point, Todd."
He raised his hand, shushing her. "Well, Todd — what were you two confabbing about?"
"That's between me and the young lady."
Paul smiled indulgently and drew Faith down to the far end of the booth. "You can't be serious. This troglodyte's got as much personal flair as an unflushed toilet."
She laughed and tugged at his lapel, pulling him close. "Shhh. He'll hear." She was so skinny: cheekbones were shards of flint. A Madison Avenue stick insect.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," he chastised, "for encouraging him. For shame."
Todd the Shitkicker stood there like a goon. As if in expectation that Faith might — what? Leave with him? The image of Faith with shitkicker Todd was so absurd that Paul could only visualize it as occurring in a Salvador Dalí painting; in it, Todd's head would be replaced by a pocket watch melted over a tree branch.
"Hey," Todd said to Faith, "I was thinking maybe you'd —"
"Isn't there a toilet that needs snaking somewhere in this city?"
"I'm kidding. He knows I'm kidding. You know I'm kidding, don't you, Todd?"
"Sure, Paul," the shitkicker said in a voice gone deathly soft. "I love a good joke as much as the next guy."
Paul raised his hands as if caught in a bank heist. "Listen, she's my date — what do you want? I saw you talking and got a little jealous."
A half-truth, if that. Faith was welcome to return tomorrow, find Todd, head back to his trailer, and fuck him senseless on a pile of discarded TV dinner trays.
"Us being buddies now and all," Todd told him, "figure I should tell you to watch your mouth. Otherwise, y'know, someone's liable to stuff a boot in it."
"Are you threatening me, Todd?"
"I'm saying words have consequences, Paul. Like, if I were to call you a faggot cocksucker — that would have consequences, wouldn't it?" He rapped his knuckles on the underside of the table; the sharp bang straightened Paul's spine. "Wouldn't it?"
It came then, fierce and unbidden: fear. It stole over the crown of Paul's head, moving under his scalp behind his eyes, cold and hollow. It oozed down his spine into his chest, his groin, pooling in his gut like dark dirty oil. He glanced about to assure himself of his location. Yes. Still this club, these people: his people. So why did he feel all shredded inside, shriveled and paralyzed?
Todd nodded to Faith in a way that suggested he'd lost all interest. "I'll leave you to it."
Paul was pissed to have it end on that note. But a larger part of him was just glad to have the shitkicker gone, relieved to find the fear dissipating.
"Why did you talk to him that way?"
Paul ignored Faith's question as one too obvious to merit a reply. He glanced over at the shitkicker's table. Todd and his pals looked like janitors who'd arrived early, waiting for the place to clear so they could break out the mops. He flagged down the waitress and ordered a round of Sex on the Beaches for Todd's table.
"— I'm sorry." He was dimly aware of Faith saying something. "What?"
"A teacup Chihuahua," she said. "I'm getting one."
"Is that so."
"They're adorable. And Versace makes this cute carry-bag for them."
Paul had seen the dogs. Frail, sick-looking things, all papery-eared and bulge-eyed. They looked delicate enough to die of a nosebleed and shivered all the time; perhaps being cooped up in handbags made them petrified of natural light. But if the cover of next month's Vogue featured a model with a ferret wrapped around her neck several women of Paul's acquaintance would soon be wearing one. Prada would probably design a ferret-tube to cart the silly fuckers about.
They finished their drinks and stood up. Faith excused herself to use the ladies' room. Paul deliberated whether he should fuck her. Conventional wisdom decreed he snap up whatever was on offer, never knowing when the opportunity might come around again; to do otherwise would be as stupid as a desert wanderer who passes over one waterhole in hopes of finding another when he's thirstier. But it would be the sexual equivalent of a lube job. Pure maintenance.
Such was the pattern of his thoughts when a hand fell upon his shoulder like a rough knighthood, a hand so insistent Paul had no choice but to obey and, turning, saw the shitkicker's face captured in clean profile, that calm and easygoing look on his face as his fist filled Paul's retinas, a flickering ball that burst like a white-hot firework to rock him back on his heels, his hands flying to his face, and when he looked down his fingers were clad in blood. He'd never been punched — maliciously, viciously punched — in his quarter-century-plus of life on this planet and all he could do was stare, with a stupid bovine look on his face, at the man who'd popped his cherry.
Todd hit him again. A blinding explosion went off just in back of Paul's eyes as though his brainstem had been dynamited. He had this terrifying sensation of his nose and cheeks crushed into an empty pocket behind the cartilage and bones, a fist driven so deep into his face the pressure pushed his eyes from their sockets to allow a frighteningly unhindered view of his surroundings.
His skull struck the padded leather door with its tiny brass rivets and he was outside, reeling onto the sidewalk.
And even now, with Todd slamming him against the aluminum shopfront, a vestigial part of him refused to believe this was actually happening. Desperately, like a bilge rat to a chunk of flotsam, he clung to the notion of some innate social mechanism whose function should be to prevent all this.
Paul was struck a blow that caught him on the neck; his head caromed off the shopfront. Two teeth thin and smooth as shaved ice pushed between his lips. He was terrified in the manner of a man with absolutely no frame of reference for what he was experiencing.
Run, he told himself. Just run away. But he couldn't even move. His mouth flushed with a corroded rusty taste and his bowels felt heavy, as if he'd swallowed an iron plug that was now forcing its way out of him.
His body slid down the aluminum, ribbed metal rucking his shirt up his spine. He spread his hands before his bloodied face.
"I give, okay?" A glistening snot-bubble expanded from his left nostril and burst wetly. "No more, okay? No more." Quietly: "Come on, man — please. I'm begging you."
Todd prodded his ass with the steel toe of his boot. "Aren't even going to try? Christ."
The look in Todd's eyes: as if he'd split Paul open and caught a glimpse of what lay inside and it wasn't quite human — everything gone soft and milky and diseased. Todd cleared his throat and spat. Gob landed on Paul's pants, sallow and greasy as a shucked oyster.
Todd strolled back to his buddies lounging at the bar door and exchanged rueful high fives. "Not much fun fighting when you're the only one willing." He was perspiring lightly, every hair in place save a blond lock fallen between his eyes.
Faith exited the bar and spotted him slumped against the shopfront. She reached out to touch him and he shoved her hand away. She studied his face, his lips bloated like sausages set to burst. "Your teeth," she said, casting her eyes about as though to retrieve them. Rock salt had been spread across the wet sidewalk: everywhere looked like fucking teeth.
"We should call the police," she said.
"Don't be an idiot."
He spied a pale lip of fat hanging over his trousers — Jesus, was that part of him? Looked like the skin of a maggot. If he unbuttoned his shirt, would he spy his lungs and the pump of his own wasted heart through that rubbery, candle-white skin?
He wanted to find something sharp and go back into the club and slice the shitkicker. Slip up behind him and stab him in the neck. He saw the shitkicker's body laid out on the smooth stone floor of the bar, blood all over everything, over every shape, his face slashed to pieces and one bloodshot eye hanging out, withered like an albino walnut. But he could never do that and the realization served only to deepen his fear, so toxic now it coursed through his veins like battery acid.
"What are we going to do?" Faith asked.
Paul did the only thing that made sense. Standing on legs that trembled like a newborn foal's, sparing not a backward glance, he took off down the sidewalk. She called after him — he distinctly heard the word "chickenshit" — but he didn't let up or look back.CHAPTER 2
Paul dreamed he was lying facedown in stinking mud. He rolled to a sitting position and saw he was in a bunker. He wore a cheap suit and shiny loafers and cufflinks shaped like golf balls. A decapitated head sat on a pole jabbed into the mud; the head was rotted or badly burned and a pair of novelty sunglasses covered its eyes. He peeked over the bunker and saw a field burst apart by artillery shells. Everything was blown through with smoke, but he could make out shapes draped over the razor wire and huge birds with boiled-looking heads pecking at the shapes. He was numb and sore and wanted to puke. A man stepped from the shadows and relief washed over him — it was John Wayne. The Duke wore a flak jacket and pisscutter helmet; a cigar was stuck in the side of his mouth. "We're going over the top. You with us, dogface?" Paul's body went rigid. His nuts sucked into his abdomen like a pair of yo-yos up their strings. "No, I have a ... business lunch." The Duke got salty. "We got a war to win, peckerwood." "I'd love to make a charitable donation," Paul assured him. The Duke looked like he was staring at a piece of ambulatory dogshit. Paul got scared again. "Is there an orphan I could tend to," he asked, "one who's been wounded by shrapnel?" The Duke stuck his chin out and glared with dull disdain. He pulled a pistol from his holster and shoved Paul into a corner and told him to face it. That's when Paul saw dozens of corpses stacked atop one another by the other wall; they all wore suits and their hands were clean and soft and they had very nice hair. Each had a frosted hole in the perfect center of his forehead. "Can't trust a man who won't fight," the Duke said without much emotion. "This is a mercy."
When the gun barrel pressed to the back of his skull, Paul woke up with a jerk.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Fighter"
Copyright © 2006 Craig Davidson.
Excerpted by permission of Soho Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This incredibly brutal novel provides a mirror of our own personal weaknesses, and strengths. Hard to read at times and delicious at others
I found this book to be quite entertaining. I would definately recomend the book to anyone who is a fan of competitive fighting, a fan of Chuck Palahniuk, or Sam Sheridan. At some points in the book I was not super impressed but at others I saw some pure brilliance in his writing. His use of language really brings you into his work, something I have had a hard time getting from other authours lately. I will definately be buying his next book.
I do not know how to even begin my review. The Fighter by Craig Davidson is a masterpiece work of fiction. It is not for the weak, this book will disturb you. Any book that makes me feel uncomfortable is worth my money. Boxing gives these characters something to live for, it makes them who they are. Read this book, I promise you will enjoy it. I am a better person after reading The Fighter.