RED DOG, RED DOG by Patrick Lane (McClelland & Stewart), 332 pages, $32.99 cloth. Rating: NNNN
So you're one of Canada's most highly acclaimed poets, author of an award-winning memoir and about to hit the big 7-0. What's next? How about a wildly successful novel?
A poet's novel. I love it when poets take on a sprawling narrative, plumping up sentences with images so striking you feel like taking out your highlighter.
Red Dog, Red Dog is about the Stark family, specifically two red-headed sons still reeling from their tragic, violent upbringing.
The main storyline takes us through a week in an Okanagan Valley town in 1958, after a raucous three-day house party at the Stark farmhouse. But the book is thick with memories woven as far back as the 20s and 30s, explaining how the Stark parents came to be such dreadfully despondent people.
Father Elmer, a violent man, married Lillian after the Depression. She begins to slowly go mad after her daughter dies from neglect shortly after childbirth. Their sons, Tom and Eddy, in their 20s, are both wrecked after Elmer's death by shotgun, but for different reasons. Bonded by their past, Eddy becomes a risk-taker, junkie and malcontent while Tom is the steady voice of reason, trying to keep it all together.
Red Dog, Red Dog succeeds in drawing us through the generations of men scarred by poverty and war and women dealing with the abuse and neglect so common to that generation.
Lane's evocation of BC in the 1950s is moving and deeply absorbing. This is the kind of novel that stays with you for days after the final page.