Tachyon Publications: 2008
We've seen this before, right? Vicious dogs? It's been done, right?
Not quite like this.
With Dogs, Nancy Kress does something different with what we might expect from a novel where there are killer dogs roaming the streets of a small Maryland town. Dogs is not straight horror like Stephen King might have written and it certainly is not your average (is there such a thing?) rabid dog story.
Dogs is a thriller. Here's the story, more or less: Tessa Sanderson retired from the FBI after her husband was killed by a drunk driver. She moved to Tyler, a small and quiet town in Maryland, to get a way from the Bureau and her old life. Instead she has moved into a town where something very bad is about to happen. Formerly peaceful dogs turn vicious and attack their owners, or anyone else in the area. Tyler hospital sees a rash of dog bites from breeds that are not known to be biters. Then it gets worse.
The government steps in, FEMA cracks down hard in hopes to reclaim its image and get something right for a change, and the CDC quarantines the town.
The dogs of Tyler can be considered the primary storyline of the novel (along with the Animal Control workers and just understanding what is happening to the dogs), but there is a secondary storyline intertwined with the primary: Tessa Sanderson is being sent threatening e-mails in Arabic that appear to be linked to the plague infecting the dogs of Tyler.
It's scary and riveting stuff.
For any dog owner or dog lover, simply reading a novel where such bad things happen to dogs and perhaps the only solution to the plague is to kill dogs, and where the plague could infect anyone's dog (mine, yours, the cute neighbor dog), it's terrifying to think about.
Initially there were some things that bothered me about Dogs. The first was the pit bulls. Not that I am in any sort of denial that yes, there are some horrible owners who are entirely to blame for the behavior of their dogs and help perpetuate the stereotype of pit bulls, but that what Kress does here is also help perpetuate the stereotype by having already vicious pit bulls get the virus. Yeah, of course they're nasty. They're pits. Except that there are perhaps just as many well behaved pit bulls with good owners. But, this is only half of a complaint about how Kress handled the introduction to the infected dogs (and breeds) and half of my personal issue on the perception of dog breeds. This is worth noting, and worth injecting myself into the middle of the review because who I am, and how I feel about dogs will certainly influence and pervade my perception of Dogs. What the writer does is only half of the reading experience. The other half is what the reader brings to the table and with a book about dogs, Kress is definitely going to touch on the flashpoints of many readers.
The second thing that bothered me about Dogs was any character who was overly idealistic came off as extremely one dimensional (think some of the government folks who wanted to use Tyler as an opportunity, the dog owners, and the dog haters). But, while this rubbed the wrong way, in many cases, this may have been spot on. Dog owners will get extremely narrow minded when it comes to their dogs, even if the larger society is at risk because of the virus. Dogs are not just pets. Dog haters will feel much the same way, and some politicians will play political games.
So, now that I think more about it, the seemingly negative may be one of the more realistic aspects of Nancy Kress's Dogs.
Enough about the negative, on to the positive: Once I started reading Dogs, I didn't want to stop. This isn't because I was excited about the dog plague, though Kress does a good job with it, but more that I really wanted to know where Kress brought the story next. Dogs was exciting and to use a well worn cliche, a "real page turner".
The melding of the terrorist story with the primary story of the dog plague is very well done. It is believable. Sure, the science is not explained in detail, but I don't think that is necessary. Dogs hits a very real fear: our pets should not be targets and if there is nothing we can do to protect them... That's something that would terrorize a population AND have said population be unwilling to work with the government.
Bottom line: Dogs works.
The novel has a rough patch or two (a couple more than I expected having read some of Kress's short fiction), but the reader is likely to be turning the pages so fast that any rough patch will be gone in the blink of an eye as the storytelling propels the reader a long.
Dogs is a good read and a good introduction into the novel length fiction of Nancy Kress.
Reading copy provided courtesy of Tachyon Publications.