Honestly, I don’t know what all the fuss was about. This book took me a long time to get through and I wasn’t particularly enraptured with the story. The prose is quite poetic, and it is definitely character driven, but right off the bat I felt like there were too many characters. By halfway through the book we’re whittled down to just a handful, but by that time I was bored.
I picked it up because Patrick Lane is a well-known BC writer, and Red Dog, Red Dog became a National Bestseller and was nominated for several awards. The synopsis on McClelland & Stewart’s website just gushes about it:
Red Dog, Red Dog is set in the mid-1950s, in a small town in the interior of B.C. in the unnamed Okanagan Valley. The novel focuses on the Stark family, centring on brothers Eddy and Tom, who are bound together by family loyalty and inarticulate love.
There is Tom and Eddy’s father, Elmer Stark, a violent man with a troubled past, and Lillian, who married as a girl to escape life on the farm with her widowed mother, and now retreats into her own isolation. Unrepentant, bitter, older brother Eddy speeds freely along, his desperate path fuelled by drugs and weapons, while Tom, a loner, attempts to conceal their secrets and protect what remains of the family. Eventually, an unspeakable crime causes him to come face to face with something traumatic that has lain hidden in him since he was a boy. Narrated in part by one of the dead infant daughters Elmer has buried, the story unfolds gradually, as it weaves in family stories that reach back to the depression days and the harsh life of settlers in the 1880s West.
This is also a novel about a small community of people, about complicated loyalties, about betrayals and shifts of power. Filled with moments of harrowing violence and breathtaking description, of shattering truths and deep humanity, Red Dog, Red Dog is about the legacies of the past and the possibilities of forgiveness and redemption. With this astonishing novel, one of Canada’s best poets propels himself into the forefront of our finest novelists.
It’s supposed to be “an epic novel of unrequited dreams and forestalled lives”, but I think the story began too late. In my mind, if it had begun when Eddy (the older brother) had first been sent away to juvenile detention, we would have seen more of the family struggle, fall apart, and have come to known Tom and the father better.
Perhaps I’m just more of a plot-driven fiction reader. Or, maybe this would have been a better “book club discussion” book where you can talk about “unrequited dreams”, the “possibilities of forgiveness and redemption”, and the “family loyalty and inarticulate love”. Either way, this book was not for me. However, my co-worker just loved it (and she likes very serious books).
Full disclosure: I read a copy of the book that we received in the office. This situation did not affect my review in any way, shape or form.