Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: NIGHT DOGS by Kent Anderson

Here we are in the dog days of summer, early August, hot, dry, and dusty.  The perfect time to be reading on through the ethereal desert of Blood Meridian.  And thence to Kent Anderson's Night Dogs, a blue-collar literary novel written in the form of a crime novel, a police procedural.

I recall reading an item on microfilm long ago in a Louisville newspaper from the 1850s.  The feral dogs in the city alleys had grown so numerous and dangerous that they were to be shot on sight by the watchmen.  At the time I wondered if this could be the source of the phrase, the dog days of summer.

Of course it was not.  The phrase came from the ancients, who had a theory that the Dog Star, which brightly appears in conjunction with the sun at this time of year, lends extra heat to the days.  Sirius is the eye of Canis Major.  The greater dog pursues the underdog, Canis Minor, who is in perpetual mourning for that suicide girl, Erigone, now forever hanging in the sky as a constellation.

The hounds of heaven.

The dogs in the prologue of Night Dogs are the feral dogs of Portland, Oregon, nightly hunted and killed by the police in what becomes a bloody game for them.  In the novel, they become symbolic.  The protagonist saves one of them, a blind dog he names Truman, and he gives him a home.

The book is written with the idea that the true man is part animal, part consciousness, and that man lives in the error of being in denial, blind to his true composition.  Read this way, the novel is outstanding and goes even beyond the high praise it received by some reviewers back in 1998, when it was first published.

I sent for it after I read author John Shannon's recommendation at The Rap Sheet (at this link), and I'm glad that I did.  The cover of the first edition won an award back in 1998, but the book has been largely forgotten.  The paperback reprint carries glowing blurbs from James Crumley, Janwillem Van de Wetering, George Pelecanos. and other fine authors.  Crumley's foreword to the paperback edition begins:

"It's the mid-seventies, and America's trying to ignore its ignominious second-place finish in the Southeast Asian War Games...The American Dream has taken a severe beating, and everything seems to have gone to hell.  The rich are getting richer and more self-righteous, the poor more desperately poor, and no one seems to remember the losses or the lessons of the Vietnam War."

Just now, I went on-line and sought out reviews of this novel, a few of them by latter-day bloggers.  Some dismiss the work as cliched, obsessed with Viet Nam, stuck in the irrelevant past.  They fail to see the universal timelessness of the story, the lessons to be learned here.  They make James Crumley's comments seem all the more prophetic.
This is a tag-along to the weekly Friday's Forgotten Book series over at Patti's site at this link.

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