There is always this attempt to categorize writing. “This book is meant for men” or “this book is ‘hillbilly’ fiction”are common phrases that litter certain descriptions of types of books which in turn, spook a type of reader away from reading a specific novel. Kevin Hardcastle has dipped deeply into a realm of gritty reality to write In The Cage, and it deserves to be noted as a great piece of literature.
At a backwater clinic outside of Medicine Hat a nurse`s assistant with long red hair stitched his eyebrow and then put seventeen stiches through a cut on his shin. She asked him what he was doing with his life and he asked her the same. She was twenty-one years old and her family was American but she had been born on the Canadian side of the forty-ninth parallel under circumstances she didn’t know or wouldn’t tell. She had spent a few years in British Columbia with her older sister until that sister went home to tend to their sick father. She told Daniel that she had come to Alberta for the work, like everybody else, like him. He’d shied from the first stich and she wouldn’t let him get away with it. A man who got punched in the face for a pittance but didn’t like needles. He had no fights in Medicine Hat again but he pulled his stitches and went back and then he started inventing new injuries and fantastical post-operative complaints. Before the first snowfall of that year he had fought twice more and they were married when the cold and bitter winter came and laid that country barren but for houselights burning in the black prairie night over wasted fields and empty roads.
They had a red-haired daughter in that bleak season. Over eight pounds and she kicked and wailed. if he thought he knew what love was, he was wrong. To be love just for being alive. To be loved to the point of desperation for the little space that you took up. That was how he loved the girl and sometimes he could barely look at her because he didn’t know what to do with it.
Hardcastle has a way of documenting the gritty side of the human condition in bold yet lyrical fashion. And this story is so true of his ability. Readers easily gain empathy for the main character of Daniel, a once-great Mixed Martial Arts fighter who is desperately trying to maintain an existence doing straight jobs in his rural hometown. But as the desperation builds, he turns to a childhood friend for work doing “muscle” to claim unpaid debts. As much as Daniel tries to keep life quiet and normal, desperation pushes him back into violence and anger – a reality for many people on the fringes of society.
The cruiser came toward the house at a creep. Dust trailing in the dry, spring air. Daniel sat in a wooden chair on the lawn with three cans of beer bound by the plastic tether, the other three rings empty. He sat in cargo shorts and a T-shirt and he wore no shoes. the sun had been out and lately left and now heavy black cloud rode across the northeastern sky. Warm winds across the fields. Daniel waited. The cruiser slowed and went on again. He made out the cop’s face from far away while the cop was still squinting out at him over the steering wheel. The cruiser sidled up to the road’s edge on the far side of the driveway. The constable got out and walked the length of the gravel drive while Daniel worked another can out of the plastics.
“Dan,” the cop said.
“Constable Smith,” Daniel said.
Daniel pitched the beer at him underhand. The cop caught it and looked at it. Still walking. He smirked and pitched the can back. Daniel caught it in his left hand and cracked it and drank before the foam spilled over the lip.
The constable stopped at the edge of the lawn and put his hands on his hips. the man stood about six-foot-three and he’d an athlete’s build just beginning to go to seed under his blues. Square jaw that he’d not shaven in a few days by the loo of it. The cop had played semi-pro hockey as a young man but he’d been a cop longer than any of that now. He looked up at the sky. Both skies.
“Was a nice day, wasn’t it?”
“It was,” Daniel said.
The cop looked at Daniel. At the house.
“Sarah home? Your girl?’
“Just me,” Daniel said. “Am I in trouble or somethin’?”
“If you have anything you’d like to confess to, I’m all ears”
Daniel took a drink.
“No,” he said. “Fuck. I don’t have the time or the means to get in trouble no more.”
The cop nodded.
“You find out what assholes stole my rig?” Daniel said.
“Not yet,” Smith said.
“Well, I won’t hold my breath on that.”
This is one of those books that I would recommend to many teenagers to read because it faces a reality that is so true, yet many a high-school English teacher wouldn’t approve of it because of it’s frank language and scenes. It is a bold book. And it is direct with “no-holds-barred” approach. Hardcastle has a way of tired and vulgar scenes and make them almost sing. He deserves kudos on his writing style and imagination.
He had the truck idling in the roadside gravel, parked so that he could see clear across a small patch of stony field to where the house stood. Modest two-storey building in one of the town’s older neighbourhoods. He observed changes made to the structure, an extension to the garage. A boat on a trailer out front, in its covers. They’d lately built an above ground pool and it took up most of the back yard. There’d been a pool there that they must have had filled.
That had been his father’s house for forty-seven years and then it was Daniels for just five more before he had to sell it so that he didn’t loose it outright. They’d gone bankrupt not long after Daniel had to quit fighting and they only had the house because it had been left to them. Two years of piss-poor welding job that came and went and paid almost nothing had them remortgaging the place and another worse year had them on a second mortgage from the bank. When they sold the house they had credit cards and a line of credit and they were upside down on the mortgage and couldn’t cover it all. They’d paid the bank but were still paying the other creditors, month by month. Daniel had even borrowed from Clayton the once but swore he’d never again, long as it took for him to work that through that debt with his hands before he could start to earn.
He waited awhile longer until he couldn’t stand to look at the place. As he was putting the truck into gear, somebody came out onto the back deck and looked toward him. Shielded their eyes with the flat of their hand. Daniel wound the window down and stuck his fist out, gave them the middle finger. The man on the deck kept looking. Then he waved. Daniel pulled out from the fringe and drove off.
In The Cage by Kevin Hardcastle is a bold and daring book that is one of the memorable ones I read in 2017. He has documented a reality that is rarely spoken about in detail, making this a great piece of literature. Hopefully Hardcastle will continue his writing career with even more works like this.