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Red Dog, Red Dog Hardcover – Sep 30 2008
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Quill & Quire
Welcome to the 2008 version of the Important Canadian Novel. Like the 2007 version – Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero – Red 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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
...there is no enjoying this book - but it certainly is in the "must-read" category!Published on Sept. 14 2009 by grace