In the first of the 31 terse, cerebral chapters of Swedish writer Gustafsson's 1993 roman noir, Texan federal judge Erwin Caldwell watches the 16mm footage from the film of his birth in order to confirm that he in fact exists. His philosophical and moral inquiry is prompted by the sudden, suspect death of his one-time spiritual adviser and revered professor of semantics, Jan van de Rouwers. The latter's demise reveals?traumatically for the Jewish Caldwell?his past as a Nazi collaborator in WWII Holland. Caldwell, whose psychic breakdown Gustofsson narrates in cool and tidy prose, begins to dig into his own past after he confesses to the district attorney that he's responsible for a brutal unsolved murder. Through journal entries and correspondence with a college friend, Caldwell traces the murderous impulse that caused him first to beat a stray dog to death, and eventually to kill another human being. Meanwhile, his wife of three decades is overweight and drinks too much, and Caldwell finds relief for his pent-up rage in an affair with the 30ish owner of a campus bookshop whose possibly mad husband has disappeared while on a search for God. The unease fostered by Gustofsson's disjointed style becomes more palpable as this provoking, if occasionally dry and disjointed, novel nears its bleak end. The pellucid, pliant translation is, however, somewhat marred by jarring Britishisms.
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"Lars Gustafsson has an uncompromising vision of the utter complexity of modern life ... He loves to play with possibilities and solutions in a manner that is refreshingly affirmative." -- Eric O. Johannesson, The New York Times Book Review
The Tale of a Dog is a compelling roman noir - an intellectual murder mystery cum philosophical discourse that looks back to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. ... Gustafsson taps a rich vein of comedy in the series of contrasts here engendered between the mundane and the high-flown as reported in the judge's fanciful narrative. -- Translation Review, July 1999
Gustafsson is to be admired for his refusal to go for any easy answers... -- The Complete Review
[A]n intellectual mystery and a philosophical discourse that looks back to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Great Metaphysical question about the reality of Good and Evil, proofs of the existence of God, human intelligence, and comedy are all intertwined with the resolution of a murder--or was it suicide? Highly recommended! -- The Bookwatch, April 1999