I bought this short story collection on impulse when I was perusing the pretty anthologies section in Waterstones. I love short stories and I love dogs – I didn’t have to think twice. But I’ve got to be honest – I’m a tad disappointed.
When I’m reading a book called Dog Stories, I want stories about dogs. The dogs, in my mind, should be the star of the show. Humans should simply be in supporting roles. However, way too many of these short stories were focused on humans and merely mentioned dogs in passing, using them as tools to give insights into human nature. What I wanted was insights into dog nature. If I wanted a story about humans I’d just read any other short story anthology ever, right?!
There were some gems in there that I absolutely adored, and which did give funny or poignant suggestions as to the inner workings of a dog’s mind. There I Was, Stuck with Bubsy by Patricia Highsmith was my favourite. It’s about a little old dog who lost his old master and is stuck with a bloke who stubbornly clings on to him, for no good reason. I loved how it showed the world – the sights, the scents, the emotions – through the eyes of a dog. Plus, it had a happy ending which, unfortunately, a lot of others didn’t.
Now, I’m not usually one who loves a happy ending. They’re fine, but sometimes I prefer it when stories don’t work out for the best or don’t work out exactly as you’d expect, because it leaves you reeling and makes you stay with the characters long after the story is over. However, I realised that when it comes to dogs, I can’t cope with unhappy endings or not-quite-resolved endings. I’m a dog-obsessed sap, and I want to know that all fictional pups mentioned lived long, happy lives. I have never been more hurt than by the final few paragraphs of Chekov’s Kashtanka in this anthology.
Oh, gosh. This dog was practically starved to death and abandoned on the streets by her master. Before that, her master’s son would let her swallow chunks of meat tied to a piece of string, and then pull the string in order to drag the meat back out of the poor dog’s stomach. All horrible, right?
Along comes a kindly soul who take the pup in, feeds her up, and trains her to perform in a show – all of which is fine and dandy in the dog’s eyes. Then, its previous owner turns up in the audience, calls for the dog, and the dog bloody willingly follows this abusive arsehole home.
I don’t know if Chekov was commenting on the stupidity of dogs, or making out that the kind dog trainer was actually the bad guy in the whole situation. Maybe he was pointing out that dogs are loyal down to a fault and will foolishly return to the hands that abuse them. Either way, I found myself slamming the book closed at the finale of that story and waking my poor fiancé up with my mutterings of, “Fucking Chekov. How could he?!” Sure, it might have been a poignant ending with some kind of message for me to take away, but my sensitive, dog-obsessed soul was too busy hurting for me to analyse it objectively.
All in all, I have mixed feelings on Dog Stories. If you’re an avid dog lover, I would probably recommend it because there are some good’uns in there. But proceed with caution, and be sure to have your own dog snuggled up beside you while you read for a little emotional support.Follow Ellie Scott on WordPress.com