"Nell's husband, a failed farmer, is abject and dangerous. A week before he takes his fists to Nell she sees her first rat. The varmint has a smug look, staring her down. Later, she's doing the dishes and a face appears in the kitchen window. "A rat face. . . . He reaches out and puts one little paw up against the glass. I put my finger up against the glass on my side . . . like somebody visiting a prisoner in jail."
In this audacious and extraordinary debut collection, figurative rats abound. Like the real ones, they can be revolting or charming, vicious and greedy, or sweetly innocent-looking as they plot to ravage all that sustains you. Lauren B. Davis's human rats come in varying colors and degrees of domestication, and are as touching as their victims. The range of human psyches portrayed here is striking and encompassing, and recalls a phrase of Timothy Findley's, that real writers "don't appropriate voices, they hear them." Davis hears clearly and listens carefully, and fearlessly records what she knows about men, women, the very young and very old, the bloom and whither of love.
A teenage girl, the sensible wallflower at a house party seething with hormones and boozy bravado, saves a comatose girl's life by forcing her to vomit, only to be mocked in a spew of cigarette smoke days later by the girl she saved: "You just don't get it, do you." A six-year-old is falsely accused of smashing a precious object by a mother who is lying to hide her own guilt: "Becky fell into a great rushing cyclone of sound . . . a terrible deep tearing. Her head shook and her arms and legs . . . as though she was being blown up, blown apart. She couldn't stop shrieking at her dry-eyed, coffee-sipping mother." A boxer falls in love and re-invents himself as a responsible cop and husband, until the job's horrors and dire temptations trigger his disintegration, driving his wife from him and rendering him a dangerous alcoholic ruin. (Booze is Davis's recurring scourge. If you've ever felt the need for a shot before noon, you'll find stunningly sobering tales here.)
Born and raised in Montreal, Davis has published in several literary magazines and now makes her home in Paris. Rat Medicine is a rare pleasure, an amalgam of deep intuitive perception, sly wit and candor that could strip paint. Read it for its reminder that the wheel of pain and anger turns inside each of us. Keep it handy for its implicit and abiding prescription for the hurt: Healing comes from understanding."