Cataract City follows two friends on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls through childhood trauma and on to adult violence. Davidson, who also writes horror under the name Nick Cutter, finds time along the way to explore the worlds of professional wrestling, dogfighting, boxing, and smuggling.
This is a big novel with a lot going on. Where did you get the idea?
Most of my early books were written about men and fighting, and that’s not to say those don’t come up in Cataract City, but the early parts are really based on childhood, from the perspective of a kid; I wanted to set myself that task as a writer and see how I did.
What drew you to Niagara Falls as a setting?
I grew up in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, a city that is about 20 minutes from Niagara Falls. I feel really comfortable writing about that area. I feel like I know those people as well as I know anybody, and I just feel like that jurisdiction, those streets, are important to me, and I think I have something to say about them. And, of course, there’s the border.
One of the villains of the novel smuggles cigarettes into the U.S. Is that taken from life?
Everybody smuggles. It was easier before 9/11. It was sort of a game for people on both sides. I had a friend whose dad replaced the windshield wiper fluid reservoir in his car for a clean one and filled it up with booze—which was cheaper on the American side—and then he drove back over and funneled it out. That’s the sort of smuggling the rank and file did. Beyond that, there’s the heavier stuff—cigarettes, weapons.
Is the character Bruiser Mahoney based on a real professional wrestler?
He’s a composite of several wrestlers. Like a lot of kids of my generation, I grew up loving wrestling, but now we are at the point where we are seeing a lot of those wrestlers passing away or living in tragic circumstances. I guess his depiction really harkens back to a grasping of the adult world from a child’s perspective—it can be jarring.
Despite the setting and milieu, the novel doesn’t give off a strong Canadian vibe. Was that a deliberate choice?
No lobstermen? No maple syrup smuggling? [Laughs] I’m certainly a proud Canadian, but what I think you are reading there, and correctly so, is that I was nurtured more on American literature. I’m proud of Canada’s great writers, but in some cases, they don’t fall in line with the way I look at the world and with what I find interesting. Maybe that’s the rubbing off on me of Stephen King, Robert McCammon, and people like that.
One of the most interesting things about this book is the structure: the pieces are out of sequence, but in a way that deepens the overall story. How did you decide on that?
To be honest, I give full credit to my editor. When I submitted the book initially, it was totally linear. She suggested dovetailing the narrative and swooping back to situate the reader early as to where these boys’ lives were going to end up as men. It meant a lot of cutting and stitching and rewriting, but once I wrapped my mind around that, it really made a huge change for the better.