Because he needed to go under anaesthetic at the vet’s yesterday, our dog was out of sorts. He couldn’t seem to understand why first one, then two, then three people went downstairs but none of them bothered to feed him. He was clearly disgruntled. Afterward he was worse for it all. Walking home he started to drift like he was still loopy, tucking his tail between his legs and ignoring every opportunity to sniff the world. “Get me out of here!,” his demeanor said. Finally, at home, he would lay in what looked like very uncomfortable positions, resting with his eyes open but largely unmoving. I think he was hallucinating.
While I’m happy to report that after a good night’s sleep he’s back to his old self, it seemed for a while there that we had a completely different dog. A dog who had forgotten how to be his old self.
Ironically, as all of this was happening I was also reading André Alexis’s 2015 Giller Prize winning novel, Fifteen Dogs. This book, by far the best book I have read during this project to date, is about dogs who are not themselves. Their drug is not anaesthetic, but human consciousness – provided to them as a result of a bet between the gods, Hermes and Apollo. Will, the gods wonder, dogs with human consciousness be happier than humans or just as unhappy? The novel hinges on the final moments in the lives of these fifteen hounds.
One of the things that I admired most about this book was the way that it took its premise so seriously and followed through the natural conclusions. The dogs might have the mental abilities of humans, but they remain dogs. They still have all the same desires and fears. Alexis is very smart on the subject of hierarchy and how that impacts the most thoroughly drawn dog-human relationship in the book. It is clear that he has thought a great deal about how dogs might think. The scene in which Majnoun tells Nira a "dog story" is the most fascinating thing I've read this year.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of the fact that the close of the book revolves around a dog-poet. This isn’t surprising (the book is published by Coach House) although it seemed a little too tidy. The book includes fifteen dog-composed poems composed according to an Oulipian constraint. Once this was clear to me, only in the afterword, I had to re-read just to catch them all. It’s a clever use of the constraint, because it doesn’t intrude on the text much at all. If I’d never read the afterword and never known, I’m not sure that it would have affected my enjoyment of the book one bit.
One thing I learned about Canada from this book: A dog would have to be dead not to appreciate the way Toronto reeks. That’s for sure.