Books and Authors

The Dogs of March

SPOILER WARNING!!

As far back as I can remember, my parents owned a book called The Dogs of March (Ernest Hebert). When I was a kid, it fascinated me because the word “dogs” was in the title, but there was no picture of a dog on the cover, just a bleak winter landscape. The font was too tiny for me to read, and there were no pictures, so I put the book down and went back to Berenstain Bears or Henry and Mudge.

Fast forward 20-something years later, and I’ve moved out of my parents’ house. I’m unpacking books at the apartment, and there’s The Dogs of March, sitting inexplicably in my book pile. I guess I must have grabbed it without thinking. Likewise, without thinking, I put it on my bookshelf and didn’t think of it until I picked it up again pretty recently and thought, “Well, it might be time to finally read this.”

I’m glad I waited as long as I did to read it. If I had read it when I was a kid and somehow gotten to the end, it would have given me nightmares. That’s not to say it was a bad book. Absolutely the opposite. I would say that The Dogs of March was one of the better books I have read in the past few years, and now I understand why my parents kept it around.

The novel chronicles the life of Howard Elman, a poor, mostly illiterate everyman from rural New Hampshire. He’s got four daughters who pay him no mind, a son who’s gone to college and thinks he’s an intellectual, and a wife who is fascinated by the Roman Catholic religion. Howard has recently lost his job, and the rich lady who’s just moved in next door wants to buy his house and his land, on which he’s parked a bunch of old, rusty cars that he shoots at with his gun when he’s bored.

To be honest, there’s not much of a plot. The book is more of a slow-burning literary novel, and the “dogs of March” is a metaphor. Apparently, in the woods of New Hampshire in the winter, the neighborhood dogs run deer and get uncharacteristically vicious as they roam in a pack away from their owners. At some parts of the book, Howard is the dogs, and at other parts, he’s the deer.

The Dogs of March had its depressing moments. Actually, it was the literary equivalent of the most depressing song in the known universe: Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” I swear, every time I hear that song while driving in my own car, I get so blinded by tears that I feel like smashing into a bridge abutment. But the book did make me consider the futility of some things in life. You can work hard and meet all the “adult” milestones but still be missing a lot, and life will go on around you after you’ve passed on.

The book ended nicely, perhaps a little too nicely for something that started out so dreary. I learned that it is actually the first in a series, but I’m not sure whether I want to read the others. Even so, I enjoyed The Dogs of March; the author managed to blend the funny parts of life with the realism and the notion that we’re all just human after all.

Books and Authors

A North Carolina Fairy Tale

SPOILER ALERT! I’m going to tell you the ending, so don’t read this post if you want to read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

First off, this book is supposed to be really, really good. It was on the New York Times bestseller list and was recommended to me by pretty much everyone, including Reese Witherspoon. Usually, I don’t put much stock in what celebrities say or do, but my mother-in-law let me borrow the book, so it’s not like I had to pay for it or even check it out of the library. Plus, it’s a book, and I like books, so I read it.

Initially, I enjoyed the book. It’s about a girl (Kya, short for Catherine) living in the North Carolina marsh during the 1950s and 60s. She is abandoned by her parents and siblings and has to learn to survive on her own. She gets involved with two men over the years, Tate (the good guy) and Chase (the bad guy). Tate teaches her how to read, and using her newfound knowledge, she proceeds to become a bestselling author of nonfiction books about the marsh and its wildlife. Chase is there for her after Tate leaves, and he becomes her best friend, but he is never faithful to her and leaves her upon getting engaged to a girl from town. The conflict in the book arises when Chase is found dead, and Kya ends up as the main suspect and goes on trial for his murder.

This book doesn’t seem to know what genre it wants to be in when it grows up. Is it a murder mystery? A literary novel? A romance? Historical fiction? It has hints of all four. The author does a wonderful job describing the setting and bringing the characters to life. The pacing of the story isn’t too fast or too slow, and the timeline alternates between Kya’s life in the past (1950s and 60s) and Chase’s body being found (in the early 1970s).

I never thought of Kya as an unreliable narrator, probably because the story was told in third person, but I feel as though the author fooled me into liking her and sympathizing with her when the ending proved that she was not likable or sympathetic. You see, it turned out that she did in fact kill Chase. We only find this out in the last page or so of the book, so there’s not much time to rethink everything before the book ends, but there is enough time to feel cheated. I rooted for this character all the way through, and it turns out she’s not the fairy-tale princess in the marsh that we all thought she was???

Most of it, I suspect, was because of the author’s seeming prejudice against men. Threaded through the book were observations of how, in nature, the female ends up killing the male and the male is only looking to reproduce. The larger males with the deeper voices get the females, and lesser males use other, more deceitful tactics. So human males are little more than animals. Chase wasn’t a terrible person; he had some vices, and he came to mess with Kya when he was drunk and almost took advantage of her, but I don’t think it was a reason to kill him. I think the author was trying to relay the fact that Kya was very in tune with nature, and she simply defended herself as a female animal would do in nature. OK, I get it… but that doesn’t make me like the book.

If you like strong settings and are a bit of a feminist, you will like this one, but if you want a more realistic plot, look elsewhere.

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Thursday Three #52

The “life updates” edition!

  1. My son was only about 2 months old when I found out that I was about to become the aunt of identical twin girls! They were born on Tuesday, at 4 pounds 6 ounces and 4 pounds 8 ounces. So my son will have cousins close to his age. (And my brother will understand the joys of parenthood!) Life is better with siblings and cousins. 🙂
  2. Because my son is getting older, he’s going to need his own bedroom. So my husband and I are looking for a house, and hopefully we find something before the lease on the apartment runs out in November. This housing market is insane, but it seems to have gotten a tiny bit better lately (or maybe I’m getting used to the craziness). The issue is trying to find something in our price range that is also in a decent neighborhood. We don’t want to be “house poor,” but we also don’t want to be in a subdivision that will turn into a post-apocalyptic hellscape a few years from now either.
  3. In addition to THE ARCHIVES, I am working on another story, which I also plan to post online as it is revised, just not on this blog. I’ve been working on this one on and off forever (since 2004 or so), and it’s not my best work, but I still think it should have some kind of life outside my flash drive. More to come on this.