Monday, October 06, 2008

New this Week: Red Dog Red Dog by Patrick Lane

Though thousands -- and thousands upon thousands -- of books are published every year with the literati barely raising an eyebrow or collecting up a sigh, every so often a book comes along that, for various reasons, is different. In Canada this fall season, one of those books is Red Dog Red Dog (McLelland & Stewart) by Patrick Lane. And the reason for our attention is not difficult to discern: though not known as a novelist, Lane’s work to date in other forms has been amazing. He is, arguably, Canada’s best known poet and certainly ranks in their number. He is a past winner of the Governor General’s Award -- for the memoir There Is a Season in 2004 -- and a winner of the British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. He is the author of 20 books of poetry and he has won another Governor General’s Award for his poetry as well as a couple National Magazine Awards.

And then he goes and writes a novel.

And so we watch.

Red Dog Red Dog is narrated in part by a small, dead child. In fact, we open on her burial.
I watched from a branch of the apple tree in the neglected orchard, his little Alice, and knew the tears were flowing down inside his skull, his dark eyes dry as glass.
It sounds like a stretch, a reach -- this telling of a story from eyes that could not have seen -- yet Lane makes it work. Little Alice is, in a sense, the ultimate omniscient narrator: she has no stake, no part, yet her slice of the story leaves its own nuance. It must.

Red Dog Red Dog
is set in the 1950s. It takes place over a single week in a small town. There is a secret. And the need for the secret to be kept is juxtaposed over its own need to be told and both seem to shimmer against the stories that have been woven to keep them it from coming to light.


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