Cataract City was shortlisted for the 2013 Giller Prize. I was compelled to read the book after Paul Haggis’ passionate book intro at the Giller Gala. Of all the books I’ve read this year, this was my least favorite.
The book felt like a parody of a Springsteen song, where times are tough, just getting tougher, the town is rough, and the inhabitants rougher, doomed to short lives of poverty, alcoholism, and violence:
Most of us in Cataract City were hard because the place built you that way. It asked you to follow a particular line and if you didn’t well, you went and lived someplace else. But if you stayed, you lived hard, and when you died you went into the ground that way: hard.
Why tell us that Cataract City is hard? As a reader, you understand that through character and scene details.
I think more than anything, other than characters that felt derivative of Stand by Me with perfect, erudite memories of their youth, the language in the book was what irritated me. The characters spoke and thought mostly in slang, using terms like “mitts” or “meat hooks” for hands, “pooch” or “mutt” for dog, “ticker,” “suds wobbly,” “moo juice,” and “chow.” I sense judging from some of the time markers in the book, that I’m close to the same age as the characters, though they talk like stereotypical gangsters from the 1930s:
It struck me that my own fight had been a curtain jerker for a couple of mutts.
If you’re looking for something to read, I’d suggest driving by Cataract City.
—November, December, 2013