Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rue Morgue Reviews Sarah Court

Review by Jessa Sobczuk, taken from Rue Morgue

On first impression, Sarah Court appears to be a well-composed, cleanly edited book of short stories. Closer inspection, however, finds author Craig Davidson doing something a little different with his collection, in that all of the tales are interconnected. The book’s overall structure actually has more in common with a novel; each of the tales work to further the global narrative and are best read in order. In addition, Davidson blurs the boundaries of formatting and narrative voice, so while you might not be able to categorize what you are reading, you will enjoy it.

The horror here is of the domestic variety, and it examines its various recurring themes through the eyes of different members of a single community in the Niagara Escarpment. The definition of suicide is explored in the first story, “Black Water: Riverman and Son,” when Colin the daredevil and his father must come to grips with Colin’s need to go over Niagara Falls in a bucket – a decision made more poignant by the face that Colin’s dad clears bodies out of the water beneath the waterfall for a living.

This flows into a tale (“Black Powder: Stardust”) about parental responsibility and the sometimes overwhelming terror that comes along with being accountable for another person’s life. In the story, Patience Nanavatti saves a mysterious infant who has been abandoned in a toilet bowl at a Wal-Mart. This theme is echoed in “Black Box: The Organist,” where a man witnesses, and is ultimately responsible for, his daughter Abigail’s gruesome body-building accident, and later again in “Black Card: Nosferatu,
My Son,” where the same father’s plight continues, as witnessed through the eyes of Abigail’s close friend. In this latter story, his son Dylan struggles with psychological issues (including his constant need to impersonate a vampire) and suicidal tendencies.

The characters of Sarah Court – including Dylan the wannabe vampire, and “Mama” Russell, a mass murderer of pet squirrels who pops up in the majority of tales – are more memorable than the stories themselves, and many evolve and even occasionally change roles as the book progresses. (Dylan, for example, morphs from an antagonistic problem child into a surprisingly sympathetic, harmless eccentric.) While the subject matter may seem more subdued than explicit and more thoughtful than bluntly terrifying, Davidson slowly reveals an underlying mood that is dark, often depressing and always strangely compelling.

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