King, A.S. 2009. The Dust of 100 Dogs. Flux. 330 pages.
Intriguing cover. Intriguing premise. Here's whats promised,
"In the late seventeenth century, famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping the pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with the dust of one hundred dogs, dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before returning to a human body--with her memories intact. Now she's a contemporary American teenager and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica."Isn't that a great premise? Doesn't that make you at least a wee bit curious about this book? If that premise doesn't get you, maybe the first sentence of the first chapter will:
"Imagine my surprise when, after three centuries of fighting with siblings over a spare furry teat and licking my water from a bowl, I was given a huge human nipple, all to myself, filled with warm mother's milk. I say it was huge because Sadie Adams, my mother, has enormous breasts, something I never inherited. When I was born into a typical family in Hollow Ford, Pennsylvania, in 1972, my life was finally mine again."
Here's what you'll find in The Dust of 100 Dogs. Narrative set in the seventeenth century, narrative set in the twentieth century, and narrative revealing what she's learned during her hundred lives as a dog. These three are woven together throughout the book. Both Emer (the seventeenth century pirate) and Saffron (the contemporary reincarnation) make interesting and compelling narrators. I'm sure it's purely subjective which one you'd prefer. As a lover of historical fiction, I was a bit partial to Emer's story. I found it more interesting than the contemporary one.
But there were a few things that I didn't care for in The Dust of 100 Dogs. Things that made me unhappy. One was the introduction of a new narrator, Fred Livingstone, about 130 pages in. Fred is a despicable character. A villain if ever there was one. He's a cold-hearted man, one prone to abusing his dog, Rusty. "Fred would always get a kick or slap in somehow. Soon it would be Rusty's fifth birthday, and as far as he could remember, every day for five years Fred Livingstone had beaten him." (135) Fred's sense of reality is lacking and he's mentally, emotionally, and psychologically unstable, unbalanced. (He is always daydreaming about women, imagining conversations with them, even in his daydreams he can't get a woman the right way, so these daydreams often turn dark and violent.) He would be an interesting character to analyze because he's definitely in need of help! And in a way this all makes sense there towards the end. But the animal abuse introduced into the book by the presence of Fred in addition to the foul and abusive language (a bit stronger than I personally like) make these passages unpleasant....for me.
Not every reader will find issues with those two things. And I can see how the character of Fred adds tension and complexity to the contemporary story--along with Junior, Saffron's brother who is quite the villain himself--a drug addict, a thief, an arsonist. I would imagine that you would enjoy this one more than I did. I liked parts of it a lot. But not so much on other parts.
I do think this would make a great movie.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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