Certain streets he knew better than others, of course. Kingston Road, for instance. What a crooked loveliness! The way it meanders among the senses: strange spices, the humid entrances to Glen Stewart Park, fresh bread, unpredictable exhalations from houses, the staid and chemical smell of concrete buildings, the shimmer of streetlights and stoplights and all the illuminations of evening, the humans with their
-Tsk, tsk, tsk…here, boy
(from <a href="https://www cytotec online canada.goodreads.com/book/show/23129923-fifteen-dogs” target=”_blank”>Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis)
The premise of the novel hooked me: Apollo and Hermes, hanging out in an old Toronto tavern, make a bet on whether human intelligence is an attribute or a burden, granting it to fifteen dogs whose lives, and more importantly, their deaths, will determine the winner.
I admire this novel for the boldness of its premise, its unabashed Toronto location, its neither Orwellian (not Animal Farm) nor its Goldingian (Lord of the Flies) development, though I thought of both at first.
The dogs respond to their new gifts in various ways, developing recognizably human archetypes: dictator, philosopher, poet, statesman, thief, friend. Nevertheless, they don’t become human dressed in fur. They retain their canine consciousness, their olfactory acuity, their relationship to dominance in all its nuances and its sexual connotations. In other words, smelling and fucking is what life is still all about.
And yet…each of them, true to his own type, reinterprets life in vastly different forms. Murder ensues. Canine-human partnership. Betrayal. Written in vivid, witty, original prose.
It’s a novel I very much admire. I didn’t love it. Maybe the very doggishness of the characters kept them at a distance, prevented my identifying with them so that I felt at a remove. But it’s a smart book, an admirable one. And I keep thinking about it.