Owen Stuckey and Duncan Diggs are childhood best friends who grew up in the beautiful town of Niagara Falls. But to them and everyone else who lives in the town, it’s not the picturesque tourist town it’s known as, it has a grittier side known as Cataract City. Owen and Duncan think they can make something different of their lives and move beyond the city until an incident occurs over the course of a few nights, changing their lives forever.
As Owen and Duncan drift apart, their lives take very different paths. And soon they find themselves on opposite sides of the law: Duncan, serving an eight year prison sentence, and Owen, the man who put him there.
Cataract City, by Craig Davidson, takes you behind the bright lights and incredible views of Niagara Falls into a story of two men who are fighting the odds and are not very successful at it. It takes you into a world where the locals are struggling to get by and into an underbelly of illegal fighting and cross-border smuggling.
The book begins with Duncan’s release from the Kingston Penitentiary and continues on going back and forth through time to show how Duncan and Owen became the men they are now and explain the motives behind the present day incident that is about to change their lives one more time. The back and forth gives just the right amount of information to keep the story moving and keep the reader hooked.
This book was shortlisted for the 2013 Giller Prize which is the reason why I picked it up and I’m glad for that because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise. It all just seemed a little intense to me, a little too gritty, but it turns out that was what I really enjoyed about the book. I love the idea of exploring the underbelly of a city I’m familiar with as an outsider, of looking beyond the bright lights and tourist attractions to see the everyday, real people who are trying to find their way in that same city.
Like others who have read this book, I did find myself questioning the use of language a bit. There were a few times where the words used seemed to be at odds with the story that was being told. But it wasn’t a constant occurrence and while it made me a pause a bit, it didn’t take away from the story. There were also a few parts I wished would move a bit faster. However, I was so drawn in by the story of two people who long to escape their surroundings but struggle to do so that the negatives of the book were outweighed.
This isn’t an easy book to read but it’s a good one. Chances are even if you don’t have anything in common with Owen and Duncan or any connection to Niagara Falls, you’ll still find this book speaking you to on a personal level.