Cataract City by Craig Davidson

cataract-cityCataract City by Craig Davidson is one of the big CanLit releases this fall. Everyone I know seems to be raving about it. Everyone, that is, but me. I’m going to come right out and say it – I did not enjoy Cataract City and there are very specific reasons why. My assessment does mean that it is a bad book, just that it did not ring my bells. In fact, I would say if you are interested in analyzing a novel, it is full of great imagery, powerful themes, recurrent symbols. But I was just looking for a good read.

Cataract City is set in Niagara Falls (aka Cataract City – who knew?) and follows the tumultuous twenty year friendship of Dunk and Owe. The novel jump starts with them being kidnapped by a small time wrestler and their struggles to get back to civilization. In fact, the whole man against nature, struggling in the Canadian wilds is a recurring theme throughout the novel. In this way Cataract City fits very nicely into the more traditional aspects of the Canadian literary canon.

The friendship of the two boys, growing into men, takes us to the grittier side of Niagara Falls. To a certain extent I found this fascinating since some of my best friends come from Niagara Falls, but they represent a more decidedly middle class element of the city. The Niagara Falls of Cataract City is a rough place, full of dog racing, fighting and drunkenness. And that is primarily where I found fault with the novel. Sports in general play a large role in the novel and Davidson describes them at length. And yes, his descriptions, especially of basketball, are beautiful, but as one who is decidedly not sports minded, they are also rather boring. Many of the sports described are also terribly violent – wrestling, bare knuckle boxing and pitbull fights. Just not my cup of tea.

Who would like this book? As much as I hate to gender novels, I would have to say this is a guy’s book. If you like to read about wrestling, boxing and basketball this is for you. Also it is a book for a certain ilk of dog lover. Greyhound racing is quite predominant in the book, and Davidson’s descriptions of the dogs are beautiful if you are into that kind of thing. And it many ways it is a book about survival. Dunk and Owe are near death and lost in the woods on more than one occasion. I would also recommend Cataract City to anyone who likes to dissect novels. At an analytic level I think it could be quite fascinating – great for an English class essay.

This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.


  1. The descriptions of violent sports sound like they could be too much for me! I find it interesting that there’s something you recognize as Canadian in the book. All of the translated fiction I’ve read has struck me as different from the American and English lit I most commonly read. At the same time, I think I might not have read widely enough yet to recognize any similarities common to many of the American and English books that set them apart from works from other countries.

      • I haven’t been actually, although I might give some Canadian books a try. I’ve read one book by a Japanese author, one by a Peruvian author, and one by a Korean author. All of those have struck me as distinctly different from American and English literature (which is what I almost exclusively read, although I’m trying to broaden my horizons). However, there aren’t any aspects of American and English books that I recognize as specifically American or English, the way you recognized the “man against nature” theme as classic Canadian. I’m curious to see if reading more translated fiction helps me spot some things that are uniquely American or English though 🙂

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