Friday, December 5, 2014

The Barking Dog by Cordelia Strube

This novel tells the story of Greer Pentland, a middle-aged woman with breast cancer who lives with her son - a teenager on trial for brutally killing an older couple while he was sleepwalking - and her 87-year-old aunt who frequently blacks out because of her heart troubles but refuses to get a pacemaker. Greer is divorced from a man who is screwing a younger woman. Greer's sister is being physically and financially abused by her husband. If this book sounds depressing to you, is.

To begin with, the book is beautifully written and the author does truly have a gift. I don't think I could have struggled through all 400+ pages by someone not as good. However, it is a struggle still; I was so relieved to finish it, because it was really starting to affect my mood. I think if any writing could be defined as wallowing, this is it - it feels disturbingly voyeuristic to continue to read about Greer's ongoing tribulations.

The title refers to a constantly barking dog that can be heard through Greer's bedroom window; nothing ever happens with the dog except that its barking is occasionally mentioned. I'm sure it's a very clever literary device, a metaphor of some kind, but for what? The cancer, perhaps. Please be prepared to read a lot of medical stuff that you may find disturbing if you read this book.

Toronto as a setting is incidental to the novel. It could be set anywhere, which just adds to my feeling of futility for having made it all the way through the book. I don't know what else to say about it - I can't stress enough the talent of the writer, but the book itself is borderline nihilist. It was like having a weight on my shoulders, to keep working my way through it. The infrequent and too-dim hope spots are just made worse by their complete lack of payoff in this grim story.

Perhaps if you are less emotionally vulnerable than me, you will enjoy this book. In that case I will give it a middling grade because I don't want to encourage folks NOT to read something they might really be into, that is, after all, very well written.

Three CN Towers out of five.

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