book review: fifteen dogs

The idea behind André Alexis’ novel Fifteen Dogs is that Apollo and Hermes lay a bet on whether it would be possible for a dog to die happy if given human consciousness. To settle the bet they grant fifteen dogs in a Toronto veterinary office consciousness and see what happens, and that’s what the novel is about.

For some reason going in I’d assumed there would be one chapter for each of the dogs, but that’s not how it worked out. Some of the dogs came to a bad end right away, and then a pack was formed and eventually dissolved.

It was a story about language and about the purpose of consciousness and about finding a place in a world that wants beings to fit a certain mould. It was a good book.

I really liked it but it shouldn’t have won Canada Reads this year. The question the program asked was “what book do Canadians need to read right now?” or along those lines. As soon as you’re introducing Canada you’re making this a political question and the political inhabitants of the nation state of Canada with its history *need* to read something like The Break.

book review: love that dog

Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog is a novel in verse about a kid and being a poet. The poems are very short, and are often responses to poems written in class. The narrator is astute when he talks about poems only being poems if they look like poems and maybe this whole criticism thing is kind of silly, don’t you think? The book is good and has some good emotion to it. It also includes (excerpts from) the poems some of these are in response to. A good little book.

book review: atlantis: three tales

Atlantis: Three Tales is a non-SF book by Samuel R. Delany, and one of the reasons I don’t go looking for Delany books systematically. I didn’t know it existed when I found it in a used-book store in Seattle in February.

It contains three stories. “Atlantis: Model 1924” is about a young black boy who comes to New York City in 1924 to live with his brother. Delany does some interesting parallel text things to represent memory and its strangeness. Sam crosses the Brooklyn Bridge where he maybe watches a man drown after pissing into the river and talks to a queer guy who invites him to his apartment in Brooklyn. “Eric, Gwen and D.H. Lawrence’s Esthetic of Unrectified Feeling” is about art and feeling and profanity. There’s an impressive cussing milkman in this one, and stuff about boys introducing boys to sex. “Citre et Trans” is about a queer young writer travelling in Greece who gets raped by a couple of sailors and his relationships with a bunch of expatriates, and a dog.

The thing that affected me most about the last story is how the rape was violent but more importantly, complicated. It wasn’t “These terrible sailors raped this writer” it was very complicated, even with the blood and the theft and the downplaying of the situation afterwards. It was the kind of story that sticks with you. Yeah. Delany’s really good even once he left science fiction behind.

book review: floating in my mother’s palm

I read Ursula Hegi’s book about postwar Germany, Floating in My Mother’s Palm, because of the story within it called The Dogs of Fear. This was the story Holly told me about when I was talking about how much I enjoyed the Machine of Death anthology. In the story a man has terrible dreams about dying in a meadow, so he buys a pack of dogs to protect him and then he finds the meadow and stops dreaming about it. Eventually he’s torn apart by his pack of dogs. It almost could have been a Machine of Death story except for its “literariness.”

I like reading a book like this, with its delicacy and narrow focus, especially after reading a lot of science fiction or the like. It’s so focused on recounting “realistic” events and talking about specific details with such minor inflections of plot, it’s a refreshing genre change. And it becomes easier to recognize it as a genre itself, not some pure archetype of fiction that mysteries or romances fail to measure up to, but a genre with its own specific and arbitrary conventions. Not that that’s a bad thing.

book review: one bloody thing after another

Joey Comeau’s book One Bloody Thing After Another, keeps on getting billed as a zombie book. I bought it direct from his hands at Comix & Stories in Vancouver, asking “That’s the zombie one, right?” (and Emily Horne said, “Of course it is; it’s got a kitten on the cover!”). But it isn’t really a zombie book. It’s a ghost story and a juvenile romance/delinquency story and a story about family and a being crazy and letting people see story and a breaking glass story, but zombies? Sure there are a few, and they’re kind of terrifying, but it’s this cryptic weird emotional kind of terrifying that you have to turn the music up really loud so you can’t pay attention to the bad shit going down. It’s not a book about “oh no it’s the end of the world and zombies!” but about “oh no the world keeps on happening and nobody cares about your zombies/ghosts/idiot-dogs but you.” Which is kind of scarier.

It was a beautiful book and doesn’t really deserve to be lumped into any zombie fashions going around these days. I’m just saying.

book review: the dust of 100 dogs

In my super-secret job I’m never allowed to mention for reasons of national security I find myself in the position to recommend books sometimes. The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King is one of these books that made its way across my workspace (can’t tell you if I have a desk or not, as that is a secret) and struck me as interesting. It’s the story of an Irish pirate and her reincarnation as a person in the late twentieth century after being cursed to spend 100 lifetimes as a dog. The cool thing is that Saffron (her 1990 self) retains all the memories of being 100 different dogs and of being Emer the badass pirate. And the great part of Emer’s memories include knowing where her last greatest treasure was buried. So yeah. Awesome.

There were several things that made this book better than the standard YA fare. First: I loved that it was set very specifically in 1990 for the “modern” parts. It made even that feel historical and obviated the need for today’s GPS and communication technology. In general I’m in favour of fiction being set in a specific year instead of “the present,” so there’re my biases.

Second, Saffron’s family is fucked up and [SPOILERS] they remain so right through the end of the book. There’s no redemption of the grasping mother who wants to live through her daughter’s success instead of doing something herself. Her father is a drug addict Vietnam vet and her brother steals from crippled people and burns down their home. You completely see why Saffron would want to go make a life for herself, memories of 300 years rattling around inside her head or not.

The sex in it is not what you might expect from a YA book too. It’s not all Gossip Girled up, there’re a couple of scenes of Emer (the pirate) getting raped and the villain spends a lot of time masturbating while watching the beach and telling the voices in his head how he’s not gay. So yeah, there’s that.

In all, what I liked about it was how it didn’t feel written to a YA formula. And in the back of the copy I read there’s an interview with the author and she says that she didn’t realize it was a YA book until her agent sold it as such. That makes sense to me. It makes it a bit weirder and out of place maybe, but a teen book I have no problem recommending.