Cold Dog Soup has you scratching your head and asking a lot of questions about Latchmer the protagonist fifty pages in. You wonder why he's doing all these ludicrous things until Miss Mitchell explains it all near the end: He's stupid.
It starts off with him meeting a girl at the gym and arranging a dinner date with her mother at their New York City apartment. That's when things get really weird as his date turns out to be something of a pervert and her mother displays an irrational attachment to Jasper, her aged red dog who takes on an annoying fixation with Latchmer's crotch. When Jasper dies that night of a heart attack, the dismayed women somehow talk Latchmer into driving out to New Jersey to bury it. That's when things get weirder and weirder when Latchmer and his new Hatian cabbie friend Jean Claude opt to spend the night trying to sell the dead dog to various shady characters instead.
The book is rich and ripe with symbolism, which I normally love to pick at and figure out. Jean Claude alone peppers the pages with fascinatingly spiritual worldviews, sometimes hilariously so. Some of the methodical sub-plot pieces range from paranoid dragon motifs to the cryptic uses of cold, hard hands. Others are more easily explained like Latchmer's penchant for denying self-guilt. But throughout this freaky piece, there are two very strong underlying meanings that hit home every time.
1. The idea that your actions always have an affect on someone somewhere trashes the concept of live and let live. When Latchmer sees that his roommate enjoys a particular sexual fetish, he figures "Whatever...he's not hurting anyone." But author Bolyns would beg to differ. "Whatever" explains away nothing as your choices are causes that will have effects.
2. An even stronger point that manages to resurface time and again is how one can live an entire life being adored by special people, only to be rejected, tossed away, even terribly humiliated in death. When that one came to me, I felt a great deal of pity for the offended characters.
There is one thing about the book that reflects harshly on the author's character though. He sometimes displays a woeful ignorance that borders the line of racism. Far too often is he preoccupied with the blackness of the skin of African American characters, almost as if black people haven't been around for 500 years.
On page 47, he tells us that Latchmer misunderstood Jean Claude's name and thought it was something african like "Sambo." Why he would choose to use that name has racist foundations that are completely ridiculous. Wikipedia states: "Sambo is a racial term for a person with mixed Amerindian and African heritage in the Caribbean, also for a black person in the United States and the United Kingdom. It is considered a racial slur."
It is also really strange to read the term "Chinaman" being sprinkled haphazardly into the text like it's not offensive. Granted, at the time of publication, it may have been normal to call little people "midgets" before it was deemed politically incorrect (which he also has no probile using.) I still hear the uninformed call black people "colored," so it doesn't surprise me. But I'm not sure "chinaman" was ever appreciated by the Chinese.
On page 56, the author states that the doctors made noises like "wild indians," insinuating that, as the English definition of "wild" means "savage," that Native Americans are a subhuman, even animalistic race. None of this is even dialog - it's text. I'm really thinking the author is wholly stupid to the sensitivities of the world as a whole. It really did surprise me how such a fool could write so well.
I really really liked this book and I wholeheartedly recommend it.