July 10, 2020

13° C, Fair

Full Forecast

Close this


Advertise With Us

Hardscrabble scrapper stages a comeback

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/11/2017 (965 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With his first novel In the Cage, Ontario’s Kevin Hardcastle more than lives up to the promise powerfully demonstrated in Debris, his impressive debut collection of short stories. The novel is a soaring, aching meditation on the physical limits of the human body, including the violence we do to ourselves and how the lives of the underclass are ignored in the larger world.

Daniel, a once-acclaimed but now physically and spiritually defeated mixed martial arts fighter, lives in economically devastated rural eastern Ontario with his wife, Sarah, a care home nurse, and their daughter. An occasional and underemployed welder, Daniel works as an enforcer for Clayton, a small-time hood and a childhood friend of Sarah’s.

Daniel wants out, witnessing Clayton and his unstable gang growing increasingly violent and reckless. He works toward retraining for a legitimate fight and a big payoff while risking permanent physical damage in the ring.

Then it gets complicated.

The story may sound predictable, but Hardcastle has the ability to turn clichés on their head; where we think the narrative is going explodes time and again into something both surprising and heartbreaking.

Hardcastle avoids sentimentality as his characters make their limited choices; compassion is achieved without ever letting the bad off the hook for their actions, no matter how justified.

The world is the world, and you get along as you must. The author demands moral choices from his characters in seemingly impossible situations in which to make them.

Few books deal with brutality inflicted so willingly upon the body. Hardcastle sustains the violence to flesh and bone — and by extension, the spirit — but he does so with endless variation (or, more precisely, endless tension). It should become tiresome or frustrating, but never does. You become Daniel, and his opponents, as the body endures while edging its way to a defeat or victory, the physical and spiritual exhaustion being the same.

Equally strong is the visceral punch the reader feels of the violence in the committing of crimes, or the revenge taken for certain crimes.

Hardcastle also offers repose, though only for a few moments when measured against the stark life or criminal pressures his characters endure. The unspoken interpersonal connections between characters — like Clayton and Sarah, or Daniel and his daughter — are simply yet profoundly rendered between the lines. They help prepare us for the book’s inevitable conclusion; only death seems to prevail, but there is hope, too, for the survivors.

There are a few missteps. While many flashbacks are written as strongly as the main narrative, they sometimes seem intrusive and not woven completely into the story, appearing almost as tantalizing short stories within the longer form. But we know enough without them for the novel to stand; you don’t want to lose them, but this is a rare instance when Hardcastle goes too far.

On the other hand, the metaphor of a forgotten class in the societal cage where violence may destroy the body and spirit is sustained subtly throughout.

Though still early in this career, Hardcastle shows a mastery of form and storytelling worthy of the attention he has received.

Rory Runnells is a Winnipeg writer.


Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.


Advertise With Us