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Red Dog, Red Dog [Hardcover]

Patrick Lane
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 30 2008 0771046359 978-0771046353 1st Edition
A National Bestseller and a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year

One of the most powerful, gripping works of fiction to come out of Canada, Red Dog, Red Dog is Patrick Lane’s virtuoso debut novel.

An epic novel of unrequited dreams and forestalled lives, Red Dog, Red Dog is set in the mid-1950s, in a small town in the interior of B.C. in the unnamed Okanagan Valley. The novel focuses on the Stark family, centring on brothers Eddy and Tom, who are bound together by family loyalty and inarticulate love.

There is Tom and Eddy’s father, Elmer Stark, a violent man with a troubled past, and Lillian, who married as a girl to escape life on the farm with her widowed mother, and now retreats into her own isolation. Unrepentant, bitter, older brother Eddy speeds freely along, his desperate path fuelled by drugs and weapons, while Tom, a loner, attempts to conceal their secrets and protect what remains of the family. Eventually, an unspeakable crime causes him to come face to face with something traumatic that has lain hidden in him since he was a boy. Narrated in part by one of the dead infant daughters Elmer has buried, the story unfolds gradually, as it weaves in family stories that reach back to the depression days and the harsh life of settlers in the 1880s West.

This is also a novel about a small community of people, about complicated loyalties, about betrayals and shifts of power. Filled with moments of harrowing violence and breathtaking description, of shattering truths and deep humanity, Red Dog, Red Dog is about the legacies of the past and the possibilities of forgiveness and redemption. With this astonishing novel, one of Canada’s best poets propels himself into the forefront of our finest novelists.

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Quill & Quire

Welcome to the 2008 version of the Important Canadian Novel. Like the 2007 version – Michael Ondaatje’s DivisaderoRed Dog, Red Dog announces itself with a flurry of portentous poetic language, often dealing with the natural world. The landscape of the novel is “stone country where a bone cage could last a thousand years under the moon, its ribs a perch for Vesper sparrows, its skull a home for harvest mice,” and the earth is dotted with “little pincushion cactus like upside-down spoons, pink flowers growing among their spines.” Largely the story of brothers Tom and Eddy Stark – notice the telling surname – the novel weaves back and forth in time (the main action takes place in the 1950s) to paint a portrait of a family whose history is tainted by suicide, murder, and drug addiction, among other ills. Death haunts the novel from its very opening, as it is narrated from the grave by six-month-old Alice, who watches her father bury her, “imprinting my body onto the skin of his hands.” After robbing the Royal Legion bar at age 14, Eddy is sent to a Vancouver reform school, despite being a year too young. When he returns home, he’s fulfilled his father’s fear that he would “come back broken.” Eddy becomes addicted to heroin and grows increasingly unpredictable in his actions. When he kills a man in a botched robbery, his brother must pick up the pieces. Patrick Lane is an award-winning poet, so it is perhaps unsurprising when he deploys elevated language in the midst of a tense dramatic scene, such as when a shotgun blast breaks up a fight, and the “flare of flames from the burning barrel beside the shed spilled comet tails into the sky.” We are then told that the holder of the shotgun “ululated, his voice tremolo.” But above and beyond the affected language, what marks Red Dog, Red Dog with the imprint of the Important Canadian Novel is its overall tone, which is sombre, dour, and practically devoid of anything resembling humour. The book is a slog, but the reader persists because it gives off the impression of weight and seriousness: we read because we are convinced that, in the end, the experience must be good for us.


“Patrick Lane’s Red Dog, Red Dog is a tale of blood, loyalty and redemption. The novel centers on Eddy and Tom Stark, two brothers struggling with their hardscrabble inheritance in the Okanagan Valley. Theirs is a fiercely unforgiving world, and, for the reader, an unforgettable one. The strength of Lane’s perfectly cadenced prose may bring to mind Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy and, inevitably, The Bible. There is a deep wisdom in this book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.”
— Richard Bachman, A Different Drummer Books

“Lane’s exquisite craftsmanship is on display… particularly his unerring instinct for images that wound and enlighten in equal measure.”
Globe and Mail

“The violence and anger [are] matched only by the sublime radiance of the prose…. While the novel is of a time and place, its significance is universal.”
Victoria Times Colonist

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful!!!! Dec 22 2008
By Nicola Mansfield HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Whoa! This is one of those books that I wonder if I have the skill to put into words all that the book is. But I'll give it my best shot. Set in the 1950s, mostly in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia (but also into Alberta, Montana and Washington) This is the story of a poor rural family and it's dark secrets. It is a story of pain and suffering and redemption.

No time frame is ever definitively given in the book. We never know the year or the day and the narrative tells this family's story from the mid/late 1800s up to the 1950s. We know the present time is the fifties due to clues in the writing, such as a reference to Elvis as a new singer. We can figure out the past dates as the story goes back to the great-grandparents of the modern characters. With no reference to the time, it can be unsettling as the narrative sways back and forth within chapters from an omnipotent narrator of the present to the narrative of a baby girl buried when she was just six months old. Alice, as she was named, was told stories by her father at her graveside his whole life and she has some connection to the spirits of the family from which she hears the family's story. Also, unsettling, once it dawned upon me (about 1/4 of the way into the book) was the author's non-use of any quotation marks, as if the narrators are telling you a story from the past, saying what he said and she said without actually having anyone speak. It is definitely a very compelling voice the author has chosen.

Also with no time reference one doesn't really know the length of time that passes during the story of the modern characters, though the jacket flap tells me it is one week, which seems feasible to me. The main characters are only a part of the story, not really even the most important part.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Despair! May 19 2009
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
The Canadian poet, Patrick Lane, has certainly delivered one very bleary read of a book in his debut novel, "Red Dog, Red Dog". Everything in this story of the Stark family life in a remote part of the Okanagan Valley in the 1950s is Dostoevskian. It is a tale consumed with ugliness, pathos, sadness, brutality, grief, tragedy, and malevolence. At the end of it the reader is left with the ultimate conclusion that blood or family ties have to be stronger than water for all this woe to be visited on a family for succeeding generations. Everyone in the story seems to have unresolved issues that gnaw away at their inner souls until they lash out and do the unthinkable. While it is not hard to picture an individual consumed by anger, imagine a whole family in this predicament! "Red Dog, Red Dog" is full of frustrated dreams, dysfunctional relationships, violent behaviour, and immature attitudes, all contained in a family whose only unity is the instinct to survive over succeeding generations. Nevertheless, Lane does a credible job in eliciting the reader's sympathy for the Starks as they struggle to survive a hostile world of their own making. The reader senses that this family may ultimately fail because, after so many fits and starts in life, they have little to show for their efforts. The Starks have hauled their emotional baggage across the great Canadian West to one of its most pleasant spots, the northern Okanagan, as a last ditch-effort to restart their lagging fortunes. In creating this maladjusted family, the author is perhaps telling us that there is something more decisive than just making it on the land that determines whether people will stay around for succeeding generations. The Starks are so taken up with their own troubles that they never become a viable part of community life. Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "It was stone country ... Oct. 17 2010
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
"...where a bone cage could last a thousand years under the moon [...] The hills rose parched from the still lakes, the mountains beyond them faded to a mauve so pale they seemed stones under ice." There can be vibrant beauty in harsh, sparse, desert-like landscapes, so much better suited to animals than to human beings. Evoking its atmosphere through achingly beautiful flowing lyrical language, depicting its intricate details, award winning Canadian poet and author Patrick Lane captures the essence of the atypical landscape of the northern edge of the Great Plains in Canada. Contrasting environment with the bleak reality of life for the people who inhabit this wild and unforgiving land, Lane has created a powerful, thought-provoking and at times challenging and unsettling novel.

Set in 1958 in a small remote community in the southern Okanagan region, the story centres on the two Stark brothers, their family and a group of friends, enemies and neighbours. While the actual events take place in the space of a week, the narrative moves in flashbacks to previous generations and the early settler years. After roaming through the Prairies since his early teenage years in search of work, whether as a farm hand, in mills or as day labourer, Father Elmer Stark has settled his family here in a place of "even more desolate towns that turned into villages, villages into clusters of trailers and isolated shacks in the trees, nothing beyond that bush that ran clear to the tundra." The people, carrying the inherited burden of poverty and misery are still suffering from the late fallout of the Depression in that region. In their struggle to make ends meet they easily turn to violence, alcohol and drugs, petty and major crimes.
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