Red Dog Red Dog by Patrick Lane
Finished: Dec. 21, 2008
First Published: Sept 30, 2008 (Canada only)
Genre: literary fiction
Reason for Reading: book was sent to me by Random House Canada.
it didn't take him long to bury me.
Comments: 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. It is the past which developed this family into who it is and created the ones now living. The past is full of dark stories which show how the various characters became sad or violent while suffering and enduring, how the past continues on generation after generation. More of the past is written about than of the main modern characters but it is all relevant to the bitter and redeeming surprise ending.
The writing is beautiful. One could read passages aloud for pure enjoyment, and I did do this myself, which is a rare occurrence for me. The story unfolds slowly, and at times one may feel it is meandering away from a cohesive plot, but it always gets back on track and the reader realizes at certain points the meaning of those wayward sub-plots. I really enjoyed the book. It is very deep and certainly depressing but the characterization is portrayed brilliantly and the reader suddenly realizes they care for these people. If you are looking for a page-turning, linear, plot driven book this one is not for you. However, if you like to get inside the heads of people who live a tormented life (in one way or another) you will find this story very satisfying. In fact, I think this is the type of book that one would enjoy even more the second time around as hidden meanings would make one nod in recognition of where the story is going. I most likely will re-read this book again some day.