When I first learnt of the book, the title Cataract City intrigued me. Naively, I assumed that the novel was going to be some sort of a sci-fi mystery, the kind that they make into a Tom Cruise movie. What I was happy to learn though was that the title was much closer to home.
Cataract City is in fact the grittier name for picturesque Niagara Falls – a city that never changes but changes you. Owen and Duncan, are childhood friends who both dream of escape from this city that consumes them. A traumatic incident during their childhood creates a bond that refuses to be severed even through adulthood as the two friends journey through two different paths in life. Duncan gets involved in the deep underworld leading him to do time in prison, while Owen finds himself on the other side of the spectrum – an officer of the law. A friendship is at stake, and you realize that underneath the pretty city your see in postcards, Cataract City is a city that engulfs its occupants and weighs them down in life’s debts and obligations. Duncan Diggs pays part of his dues in the pen, but he also realizes that some debts exist beyond that. “Blood dues, you could say. And though aren’t collected in the usual way, are they? Those ones tiptoe up behind you like a sneak thief.”
What I really enjoyed about Cataract City was Craig Davidson’s ability to get into nitty-gritty details of his characters and their experiences. Duncan describes his life in Kingston Pen as a place that “housed animals who’d flatline you for looking at them cockeyed or breathing their air.” His words are riveting as they describe the subtleness of the prison experience, which slowly crawls into the darkness of his mind.
“Penitentiary darkness was different the outside-the-walls variety. A prison never achieves full back. Security lamps forever burning behind mess screens in the high corners of the cellblock, hourly flashlight sweeps. Your eyes become starved for true night – anything is better than granular, gummy semi-dark where shapes shift, half glimpsed, at the edges of your sight. Still you get used to it, in time.”
Cataract City is a good read, but at times I found it especially long to get to the next chapter. There are moments of revelation, but I had to remind myself that it wasn’t a book that poked my curiosity, but rather was a coming of life story done with great depth of character and craft.
3/5 Sukasa Stars
Note: Cataract City goes on sale September 3, 2013. I reviewed this from an uncorrected proof and any quotes in this blog may be modified in the final released version. Regardless, I thought it was necessary to show the breath of the author's writing style.