Somewhere around midnight, Rose, a German shepherd, stopped as she was licking her vagina and wondered how long she would be in the place she found herself. She then wondered what had happened to the last litter she’d whelped. It suddenly seemed grossly unfair that one should go through the trouble of having pups only to lose track of them (15)
Our Summer Reading and Summer Weekend Movie Reviews generally consist of older material, things we missed the first time around or that might not immediately occur to the Bureau-crats. Fifteen Dogs, a fabulous (in the original sense) award-winning short novel tells the tale of some Toronto canines who achieve sentience on the whim of a couple of gods.
Title: Fifteen Dogs
Author: André Alexis
First published: 2015
A couple of gods make a bet over drinks in a Toronto pub. As a result, fifteen canines achieve sentience, and are soon “helplessly free” (17) on the streets of Toronto, near High Park. The novel follows the pack to the death of the last dog.
I’m impressed by how much ground this book covers, bounding across the lives of characters, and existential, philosophical, and social questions we will continue to ponder.
I have more of an odd response than a specific low point. The author required some method for giving his characters the ability to think and reflect on a level not available to dogs, and it stands to reason that method would be pretty arbitrary. The Classical gods have long had a place in Western literature, but they’re a strange fit with the rest of this novel.
Originality: 4/6 Allegoricalesque (if that’s a word) reflections on human behavior using animals is old indeed, and more than a few books have explored the streets of real cities (We get a very interesting tour of Toronto here, though it does not beat the one we see in the late Helen Weinzweig’s Basic Black with Pearls). The dog novel, furthermore, is an actual genre.
Alexis’s novel still feels original.
Imagery: 5/6 We get the sights, but also the sounds and smells of the characters’ worlds. The dogs, even sentient, often describe more than they comprehend.
Characterization: 4/6 Characters are often simplified, but the perspective remains interesting. A couple of the dogs, and at least one of the humans, appear fully-fleshed.
Some people have objected to the novel’s dated and simplified version of dog behavior, but we have to see the core pack as trying to recapture a notion of essential canine nature. They’re no better at capturing or even defining their essential nature than we are, though we, like they, imagine they’re doing a doggone great job.
Emotional Response: 5/6 I found this book emotionally affected on a number of levels. Every dog gets its day, and its last day, as well. Some of the dogs die through unpredictable misfortune. The pack, predictably, turns on some. And some make a foray into a literal “garden of death… convinced the ground’s bounty was a gift from the one who’d come… in a dream.” One dog, Atticus’s, “first premonition of death came while he was eating a piece of chicken: flesh that tasted as certain dog toys smell. It was not the way anything should taste, but it also tasted of chicken and it was good. Shortly thereafter, death stepped out from behind its curtain. Atticus’s nose began to bleed. He could not drink enough water. His insides burned. He had eaten more than the others. His symptoms were the first to appear” (97).
Life’s a bitch. Then you die.
The question is, can you die happy?
Editing: 6/6 The author gets a bonus for his inclusion of dog poetry, appreciated by me, though not by many of the novel’s titular canines. Some things remain constant across the lines of species.
Overall score: 5/6
In total, Fifteen Dogs receives 35/42