William Styron once said that a great book should leave you with many experiences and slightly exhausted. You should live several lives while reading it. And Angie Abdou's novel The Bone Cage, with its detailed portrayal of the training regime of two Olympic hopefuls, is exhausting.
In the best way possible, that is. Author Angie Abdou brings to life the draining duties of being an elite athlete through the characters Sadie Jorgenson and Digger Stapleton, a swimmer and a wrestler training for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Five a.m. wake-up calls. Extreme weight-loss tactics. Endlessly pushing their bodies to the limit. Obsessively watching what they eat. Is it enough? Too much? What about sleep? Weight training? Elite athletes must conquer their own mind and body before they are ready to battle it out with other competitors on the mat (or in the pool or on the field...). And every four years they get to show off their skills and the sacrifices they've made, on an international stage. But what happens in between? And what happens if you don't make it?
"I had gotten really frustrated with the Olympics and the way people tune in for the two weeks of every four-year cycle and judge the athletes' performances and really know very little of what happens during the rest of the four-year cycle. I wanted to give a sense of the kind of commitment and fatigue that the athletes face every day," Angie told Shelagh Rogers in a recent interview on The Next Chapter. "Everything is very scheduled and disciplined and focused toward success in the competition."
Angie was inspired to explore these questions through fiction after watching her brother sacrifice so much for his own Olympic dream. Angie supported him through it all and was ringside to cheer him on when he stepped on the Olympic mat, but as she watched her brother push himself to the limit, she became increasingly troubled by how Canada treats amateur athletes and by what might happen to her brother when it's all over.
Angie's own athletic background informed her insider's knowledge of the sports world. A competitive swimmer herself, this native of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (who now teaches writing at the College of the Rockies in Fernie, British Columbia), first jumped in the pool when she was four years old. Her father was a competitive wrestler, as was her brother. Her mother and her husband can often be found racing in the water as well. Living and breathing the athletic lifestyle has enabled Angie to bring the little details to the page — the cauliflower ears, the chlorine-infused hair — and create a vivid but punishing world.
The result is a picture-perfect portrait of just how hard amateur athletes work for their country — and how little the rewards are for most of them.
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The Bone Cage will be defended by former NHL player Georges Laraque in this year's Canada Reads debates, which will air on CBC Radio One on February 7, 8 and 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. (2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland).
Visit The Next Chapter website.
Visit the Canada Reads website.