In the Cage by Kevin Hardcastle

In the Cage is pretty much the opposite of the last book I wrote about. Far from “heartwarming”, it’s rough, gritty (yes, “gritty”), and sad. This is not a criticism – many of you know I like dark, heavy books. However, I wouldn’t normally be drawn to books about fighting or fighters, but I have yet to read a book published by Biblioasis that has disappointed me.

Daniel is a cage fighter whose career is ended by an injury. He moves back to his hometown and falls into the world of crime. He and his wife, Sarah, struggle to keep their heads above water and to provide everything they can for their daughter. (Although, I couldn’t help but notice how much beer they drank as they contemplated their precariuos financial situation.)

“Anything you ask him for he’ll try to give you,” Sarah said. “Even if he can’t. He’ll try to give until he’s broke and starving. You understand?”

Daniel loves his family fiercely. According to an interview with Bibiolasis, Hardcastle believes this is the key to having the desire “to fight tooth and nail even if your odds are almost insurmountable“. Much of what Hardcastle put into his book comes from some personal experience; life in a rural area, a father without a reliable job who fought hard to provide for his family. “You can love your family and do everything in your power to make their lives better, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to“.

I found Hardcastle’s writing style distinctive and mesmerizing. He writes about this grim place and these wounded and beaten characters with love, making it not only bearable to read about, but beautiful.

The wind came harder now and the thin drapes blew up against Sarah’s chair and goosepimples rose at her pale neck. She drank slow by the flickering of the television and soon she shut it off. Empty bottle in her hand. The room would not darken. Morning rose up out of the outlying water and through the tree-columns. Birds spoke and half naked-branches shook their leaves.

Afterward Daniel drove home through dark country where the snow had cleared and seed-filled soil lay black and damp. Nightbirds cried out and circled above. And at the end of the road his wife and daughter sleeping.

Not all the scenes in the book, however, are beautiful. There are ugly moments, bloody scenes, and horrific acts. While we witness Daniel untangle himself from the criminal activities he had been involved in as well as experience some joyful times with his friends and family, from another direction we can see the train wreck of his messes and misfortune catching up with him, leading to the story’s heart-stopping conclusion.

I have a soft spot for stories about characters who live in small towns or rural areas; the ones who live on the edge of society, unnoticed by most. People like Johnny in We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night, or the Saint family in Sarah Mian’s book When the Saints. I like to know who they really are.

Something to think about:  Is Daniel’s wife Sarah and their relationship too perfect? This was first brought to my attention by Anne in her review at I’ve Read This. “My only quibble with this book would be the characterization of Daniel’s wife Sarah. She is a strong woman, fearless really, and the amount of shit she puts up with is unbelievable… and although I’m sure men WISH a woman like that existed, I’m not sure I’ll ever meet one“.


I had noticed all the fuss and accolades surrounding Kevin Hardcastle and his first book Debris, and now I have an idea what it was all about. Debris is now firmly on my to-read list, as well as any other book Hardcastle writes.

Read the praise for In the Cage and Debris by writers such as Craig Davidson, John Irving, and Donald Ray Pollock.

A round-up of reviews for In the Cage.

Thank you to Biblioasis for sending me a copy of this book!

35 thoughts on “In the Cage by Kevin Hardcastle

  1. annelogan17 says:

    Awww you are too kind! Thank you for the shoutout Naomi, and thanks to for Smokey’s shout-out 🙂

    I felt the same way you did when they kept drinking beer all the time. I know it’s petty of me to say, but I wonder how much money you would save by just drinking water instead? LOL Like seriously, if money is tight…

    • Naomi says:

      Oh good, I’m glad it wasn’t just me. I felt like a bit of a killjoy writing that. Like you, I wanted to calculate their savings! But I also know it’s probably realistic…

    • buriedinprint says:

      Hah. But isn’t that kinda the point, that life is hard and money is tight and drinking is a relatively affordable means of coping with that (compared to therapy or vacations or pastries or cold-pressed juices or serial lattes?) or, at least, accessible? 🙂

      • annelogan17 says:

        Yes, I appreciate your point, but I wouldn’t say drinking is necessarily a coping mechanism, more so a means of escapism, one that can lead to lots more destruction in one’s life. Chocolate is my main vice, mind you, not good for the waistline either LOL

      • Naomi says:

        I know… I totally get why they’re drinking. And if it weren’t for the fact that they have a daughter, I probably wouldn’t have thought about it so much.

  2. Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis says:

    Maybe beer isn’t as expensive wherever he is as it is in Nova Scotia. 😉

    Although you make a compelling case for this book, I think I’ma gonna pass. I just finished the first in the Mario Silva series by Leighton Gage, a police procedural set in Brazil. So much brutality! I’m feeling bruised and needing to read something far gentler.

  3. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    My first instinct was to say that this book isn’t for me, exactly, but I think the language won me over. Just going by your quote, I’d say that “gritty” is a good way to describe it. And of course I want to know about the ending now. (Don’t tell!)

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, exactly. There will probably be a lot of people who think “this isn’t for me” who would probably end up liking it as much as I did.
      (I won’t tell!)

  4. Sandra says:

    I admire your ‘grit’, Naomi, in tackling these darker and more brutal novels. I feel like I should, especially after your review, but I doubt if I will. I suspect I’m a bookish coward! 😀

    (Oh my, Smokey is a stunner. And a masterly poser!)

    • Naomi says:

      Perfectly understandable. 🙂
      Smokey *is* very good at posing for Anne’s pictures! I don’t think my cats would stay still long enough… unless they were asleep!

  5. madamebibilophile says:

    This does sound good, and I would never have thought to pick it up without your review as the cage-fighter element would have made me think it wasn’t for me. It sounds really powerful, so thanks for challenging my prejudices!

    • Naomi says:

      I don’t get unrequested book mail very often, but I think that’s one thing that can be said for it – it can challenge you to read something you might not have picked out on your own. It usually works out great for me!

  6. FictionFan says:

    I’m much more into grit than heart-warming, so long as it’s good grit – and this does sound good. I shall see if I can find a small space on my list… 🙂

  7. Deepika Ramesh says:

    If the writing is THIS beautiful, even only sporadically, I will still survive this book, Naomi. Thank you for this wonderful review. 🙂

  8. buriedinprint says:

    This is in my library queue, and I admit that I was feeling a bit anxious about its approach (as the numbers dwindle on the hold list, over time) so I’m relieved to hear that you have found it such a redemptive and rewarding story. It sounds a little like Craig Davidson’s Cataract City, with the grittiness, which I did enjoy, but stories about fighters put me off (in films too). Debris is on my list too; are you heading in its direction soonish or laterish?

    • Naomi says:

      Yay, I’m glad you’re going to read it – I think you’ll like it!
      Because my library has Debris, I can get it easily and read it anytime, but should maybe wait a couple/few more weeks?

  9. The Cue Card says:

    I like the writing of his you included in your review. The style is good. I will look to get one of his books at the library.

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