Book Review: A Dog and His Boy

PB_promo by T. F. PrudenDescription from Author: A gripping wilderness adventure tale, a tragic sins of the father story, and a tender ode to friendship. T.F. Pruden’s debut novel ‘A dog and his boy’ is these and more. The richly layered account transports the reader to a world too real to be imagined where life alternates between ironic humor and compelling tragedy. A poignant coming of age narrative, it confronts the gritty reality of a broken home and alcohol abuse with lyrical precision.

To grow up in the back country of the Canadian northwest during the nineteen seventies is a trip only the hardy survive. With his father away on another binge Tommy Parker struggles to care for his younger brother and a sprawling ranch. His canine best friend Puppits is both hunting partner and confidant. With childhood lost he lives in fear of ever growing responsibility. The return of his father sets events in motion sure to change everything. Tommy will need something to hold onto if he’s going to make it.

Along the way he’ll learn that some lessons are impossible to forget.

Book Review: I think the biggest problem this novel suffers from is identity confusion, probably on the part of the readers. The title “A Dog and His Boy” reminded me of “The Horse and His Boy” from The Chronicles of Narnia series, and there is a fairly popular (to judge by number of reviews on Goodreads) middle school children’s book called “One Dog and His Boy.” Despite the description, the title and the book cover, with its school-bus colors and child-like printing, make you think this could be a young adult/middle school sort of book.

But it isn’t. This is a literary novel, meant for adults; a reflection on how the “sins of the father” can reproduce themselves in the lives of his sons, and how hard it can be to break generational parenting patterns. The characters are multifaceted, insightful, and flawed, and the climax is devastating.

So here’s a closer look, examining the Narration, Content, Characters, Artwork, World Building, and Overall Response.

Narration: 3 out of 5. The book had some challenges in narration, I think. Despite a delightfully wry and ironic sense of humor, and some of the best foreshadowing I’ve ever encountered, it repeated itself. It reminded me a of tone poem, really, as ideas and information were repeated, chapter after chapter. If it was intentional, it was well done, but it’s not the sort of thing one looks for in a novel.

There was some unavoidable overlap in narration, since most scenes were shown from four points of view, but there was other repetitiveness, where something we’d already picked up from behavior was told and retold again. For example, we were informed, over and over, how Tommy’s father was going to change things, how he treated his two sons differently, and how he wished he could change, when a few instances would’ve illustrated this just fine. It felt a bit like musicians repeating the same notes or tune, over and over again, and while it can be effective in small doses, it felt like too much for a novel. (I also think there was a bit too many technical details in the descriptions of buildings. We don’t usually need to know the exact roof pitch and board dimensions.)

Content: 4 out of 5. Once I got to the first chapter from Will’s perspective (Tommy’s father), I realized this book wasn’t meant as a typical “coming of age story,” and with that realization, the rest of the book made sense. There was some strong language in the climax, and a short passage where Tommy recalls how his uncle “educated him” sexually (introducing him to his own sexual philosophy), but primarily, what makes it “adult” is the content.

The characters deal with depression, lust, drinking, bitterness, trust, and the challenges of being a parent, even though half the book is told from the perspective of the two boys. It made me think of the song, “The Cat’s in the Cradle:” although its lyrics have childish elements, like “Little Boy Blue” and “the Man in the Moon,” the piece itself is not meant for children but for their parents. Similarly, this book is really for adults, and I think this should’ve been established sooner, either through a prologue where Tommy starts the novel, as an adult now, recalling the summer that changed his life, or with a scene from Will’s perspective.

Characters: 4 out of 5. The characters were the best part of the novel (which is as literary fiction should be, I think). They were interesting, and you could see why they acted the way they did. We were given enough time with each of them to get a feel for their dreams and hopes, their fears and worries, and their genuine flaws. What keeps them up at night, and what fires their imagination. I felt like they could walk through the door, and I’d know them.

But, there were a few problems. On occasion, there were inconsistencies, like when Tommy’s brother thought about how he didn’t like school. First, he flatly felt he didn’t like it for taking him away from the ranch, that the teachers were “weak kneed and lily livered,”and then, a few pages later, it said he “was surprised to find he looked forward to going back in the fall.” And there were recollections or flash-back scenes that couldn’t have possibly been what the character was thinking at that moment–far too detailed, lengthy, and thorough for a character who is in the middle of physical activity–but it wasn’t abundantly clear that it was the narrator doing the recollecting, either.

Artwork: Subjective. I have mixed feelings about the artwork. On one hand, I really like the crisp, uncluttered look, but I think it contributed to some confusion about the identity of this book. It looked youthful, as I mentioned earlier, and while the yellow and black has a ominous feeling, like a warning sign, it also looked too much like a school bus to be an adult book cover, I thought.

World Building: 4 out of 5.  The world felt very real and very consistent, but a bit narrow, in some ways. We never got a feel for the town they lived near, or what their friends were like, or how they ever saw their cousins (who, presumably, they saw, for in one scene, Tommy recalls some sexual experimentation he and one of his cousins did, in a tactful, summary way). It felt like, after living in the city, the boys got dumped on the ranch and rarely left, and it was hard to believe they had friends or a life away.

The father and uncle’s visit to the city also felt confined. Not that I wanted to experience their carousing, but it didn’t feel like such partying would’ve happened at their girlfriends’ house, nor in their girlfriends’ company, necessarily (they didn’t seem like the kind that would drink from five days straight) but we never got a glimpse of where and with whom such drinking took place.

Overall Response: 15 out of 20, for a total of 3.75.  I think it could’ve been better with a bit less telling of what was going on and being felt, but overall, it was a colorful, deeply-felt novel. For adult literary fiction, it was light in tone, tactful, and balanced, and we experienced the story from a variety of ages and points of view. The ending is not for everyone–a bit tragic, really, and it almost feels like it could’ve been avoided, that such an end wasn’t completely inevitable–yet it is a uniquely modern, pioneer-flavored tale of growing up in a harsh, wild environment under a father who cares, but doesn’t know how to show it safely without spoiling his kids (or, at very least, his eldest son).

To read more reviews like this, click here.

Copyright Andrea Lundgren 2016

Photo courtesy of T. F. Pruden

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