Craig Davidson’s debut short story collection Rust and Bone continues the streak of reading great books that make me feel kind of awful. These are for sure some of the best short stories I have read in a long time. They are well-written, told by a future master of the art form and are unlike anything. While I like most books published today, more so than my peers, I find there is a great tendency to soften them and make them puerile and too derivative of the past (most 20 Under 40 writers fall into this category). One thing Davidson will never be accused of is writing soft stories. These stories pack more of a punch than most anything you will pick up, featuring lost souls fighting for a life that may not be worth living, throwing punches even as they face the inevitability of defeat. Using metaphors like that, the easiest comparison I can maker to Davidson would be Thom Jones, easily the most underrated short story writer alive today. Davidson writes with same oddly poetic macho bravado, crafting stories that dissect the ideas of masculinity, showing what these broken people use to hide their flaws. A lot of time, it isn’t pretty, with more than a few moments in these graphic stories being as uncomfortable and heartbreaking as possible. But Davidson writes with grace as well as aggression, and never, through any of these harrowing stories, do we feel anything but the upmost empathy for these people who seemingly came into this world losing, and are doing so right into their graves. There isn’t a weak story in this collection, so I will talk about a few of them. The first story, the eponymous title story, is easily the strongest and ranks with Jones’ “Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine” and “The Pugilist at Rest” and like those stories, it uses boxing as a metaphor for a difficult life. “The Rifleman”, about an abusive father, living vicariously through his son’s basketball prospects makes you feel sympathy for someone you shouldn’t, showing the father’s regret of his actions, and the real love he feels for his son. “A Mean Utility”, concerning a husband and wife who use dig fighting as a way to cope with the husband’s infertility is easily the most graphic story, featuring a few upsetting scenes of the fights, which are told in graphic detail. “Rocket Ride” tells of a killer whale trainer who, after he has his leg bitten off turns to a life of depravity, works in a different way than “The Rifleman”, as a man who typically has your sympathy, has none by the end. Finally, “On Sleepless Roads” about a repo man whose wife has Bradykinesia, a movement disorder, has a beautiful scene where the narrator is forced to repo a vehicle of a former kid’s show performer, which involves the setting free of most of his pets. But really, most of the stories are great and powerful, even if they might be unpleasant, and it is hard to think of a better example of a great short story collection.