Craig Davidson, 2017
Reviewed by Justin Shankaran
Craig Davidson was at a low point in his life and looking for a day job when he signed up to drive a yellow school bus. He got much more than he bargained.
In Precious Cargo, his new work of intimate and riveting non-fiction, Davidson tells the story of one year driving special-needs children, granting him a more mature understanding of his own life and his connection to others. It is also a moving and important story about how we see and treat people with special needs.
When Davidson, in a moment of desperation, responded to a ‘Bus Drivers Wanted’ flyer stuffed in his mailbox, he completed his training, and then made what other drivers saw as a rookie mistake: he signed up for a special-needs route.
What began simply as a means of earning money became a transformative experience. Precious Cargo chronicles that thoroughly entertaining, heartfelt, and at times humorous glimpse into the life of a writer known more for crafting scenes of bloody mayhem and testosterone-induced violence than philosophical ponderings and self-reflection.
Davidson had written 4 previous titles “about boxing and dog fights and zombies and werewolves and lunatic prison inmates and repo men and more boxing and vampires and sex addicts and grisly dismemberment via crazed killer whale attack. Not all in the same book, mind you,” according to his website. Those titles are: Cataract City, Sarah Court, The Fighter, and Rust and Bone, the latter also a film by Jacques Audiard starring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. Despite all this, he was subsisting on instant oatmeal when he took the job.
In this memoir Davidson veers into new territory, clearly. The rules of the genre require quite a change in approach. He gives some details regarding the specific conditions of the students -Jake has cerebral palsy, others fall on the autism spectrum disorder – but none of the children are defined by their conditions. These are just children, young people with whom Davidson makes a personal connection.
That said, there are one or two instances where Davidson tends to drift a little too close to the kind of sentiment seen in an after-school-special, mostly while ruminating on the nature of disability versus ability, but his genuine affection for the children on his bus route shines through.
Precious Cargo is a tale of growth and redemption, and here it resembles other memoirs. The story is told through images both uproarious and tenderhearted. Together, they depict Davidson’s unsentimental education and perseverance through adversity.
Davidson is no longer in regular contact with any of the children, but this doesn’t diminish the effect of his story; it lends to the story’s authenticity. Precious Cargo is a tale of recovery about being given what you need by those society too often dismisses as having nothing at all.