The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou
Set in Calgary, the Bone Cage is about two athletes determined to compete at the Sydney Olympics. Sadie Jorgensen is a 26-year-old long-distance swimmer who trains for six hours a day, works at the university gym for minimum wage and still lives at home. Digger is a competitive wrestler who at 31 is chasing his last chance at his Olympic dream.
The story's point of view alternates between Sadie and Digger until their paths cross at the University of Calgary gym. Although their sports differ greatly, their commitment, focus and single-mindedness are very similar. In any other story, we would expect a relationship to develop, but we quickly learn that romance would interfere with their training and ultimately their goals.
Early in the story, Sadie experiences the misfortune of losing her grandmother, suffering her first break in concentration and training. This, however, is more of a blessing in disguise, as it forces her to imagine what life might be like after the Olympics. The next break involves a car crash. Digger, the driver, escapes with minor scrapes and bruises, while Sadie sustains more serious injuries, and the second break in her training.
I'm not one to watch sports on TV. The commentators' clichés and hackneyed metaphors grate on my nerves. This book, however, is well written, and as one of my colleagues pointed out, the author says a lot in very few words. She also performs the miracle of making wrestling interesting to the average reader--no small feat. Therefore, accessibility is one of the book's strongest points. I was also pleased to see that the main protagonist was a woman athlete because, sadly, the focus in sport is almost always on men. Besides, sporty girls and young women need role models like Sadie Jorgensen.
The Bone Cage also showed the darker side of elite amateur sport and that fine line between determination and obsession. I'd always thought of amateur athletes as wholesome and committed, and until I read this book, I'd never considered how unhealthy it was to focus solely on something as elusive as the Olympics. This was well illustrated in Ben, Digger's wrestling buddy, who fails to qualify for the Olympic team and ends up in a psychiatric hospital, later turning to religion. I finished this book with a greater appreciation for the psychological fortitude elite athletes require, ability and experience aside.
Overall, if the Bone Cage had not been a Canada Reads finalist, I probably never would have picked it up, but I'm happy that I did. It gave me a realistic picture of what makes an Olympic-calibre athlete tick. And if I could ask the author one question, it would be this: Why did you choose Sadie to be the injured party in the car accident? Digger continues his training and eventually goes to the Olympics. He feels some remorse and guilt about the accident even though it was not his fault. But life goes on...Sadie accepts Digger's choice and is not bitter about his decision. But if Digger's Olympic dream had been shattered by injury and Sadie had continued on with her Olympic dream would this book have been as well-received?
I'd love to hear from anyone who has read the Bone Cage.
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