Thursday, September 18, 2014
THE DOG by Joseph O'Neill
THE DOG by Joseph O’Neill. Of course it’s a literary novel. By that I mean the sentences are long and introspective, even analytical, as opposed to short and focused like a darts player trying to score points. This is a book asking you to think and observe, not merely to be driven around in a race car looking for a checkered flag. It’s an anti-Patterson novel, having no tight, ominous structure or 120 chapters containing one-word sentences. Riveting and page-turning? Hardly. But you are moved in odd ways and learn things you don’t already know, (or have already read 120 times.) Is this not a plus? It would be, if our culture made sense. What better way to tell a story set in Dubai, about a man who is “in the doghouse” with his girlfriend (and who goes to take a job in that ultimate wet dream of American culture) than to make it part angst over guilt, part revelatory confessional, and part observational travelogue? His internal examination, sometimes lost and plaintive, is also funny, ironic, didactic, and always aware of being on the outside of the hedonistic, simplistic decadence surrounding him (the Emeratis turning the American dream of a life of leisure and bling into a nightmare of the ultimate nirvana: ironic in its own way since more radical Islam believes that nirvana—life itself—begins only at death.) The outward story, in which a nameless protagonist cannot find the peace he seeks, (while examining his choices along the way), succeeds in ways a suspense or mystery novel with a neat Hollywood wrap-up cannot. So, while it’s not as exciting as pop formula novels, it’s also not as shallow, either. It's more like real life, in which we are all seeking things we hope will satisfy, even if we know they may only make us victims of our delusions in the end. I enjoyed The Dog for another reason, too. The setting is Dubai, which I also chose as setting for a novel that walks the line between suspense and literary. As read by actor Erik Davies, The Dog becomes an enlightened journey down a road less traveled, with a tour guide whose tone matches the material, while the material itself renders rewards to those patient and brave enough to listen to the truth told by a tortured everyman.