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The Barking Dog

by Cordelia Strube

Cordelia Strube is surely a unique voice in Canadian fiction today. Since her impressive debut, 1994’s Alex and Zee, this prolific and accomplished writer has made a career of portraying disconnected urbanites struggling to find meaning in their lives.

The Barking Dog is no exception. Strube’s fifth novel is the story of Greer Pentland (a small departure for Strube, who more often writes about male protagonists), a 40-something real-estate agent who is trying to cope with both breast cancer and the aftermath of divorce. Pentland, no longer either physically or emotionally whole, is wrestling with the despair she sees all around her, a task that only grows more difficult when her beloved teenage son is put on trial for the sleepwalking murders of two elderly strangers.

Like all of Strube’s novels, The Barking Dog is relentless in its portrayal of the ugliness of life. We are bombarded with the full arsenal of 20th-century ills – not only murder, divorce, and breast cancer, but also spousal abuse, mental infirmity, cultism, and so on. All of this is interspersed with references to news stories any urban dweller will recognize (a man jumps in front of a subway train, taking his adoring son with him; a mother and her boyfriend rape and beat her toddler, leaving the child to slowly die on the bathroom floor). And as always, the novel is populated by Strube’s standard cast of offbeat secondary characters: the broken Lyla, who believes she is Prince Charles’s confidante; Sylvia, a cranky octogenarian and true Red of the old school; and poor, dear, gap-toothed Arnie, unquestionably one of the most purely decent characters Strube has ever created.

These are damaged human beings, and the instinctive reaction might be to recoil from them. But Strube’s tragicomic fiction is compulsively readable, perhaps because of the spare, unadorned prose and rapid-fire dialogue, perhaps because of the compassion that lurks just beneath the surface. The Barking Dog is a bleak novel, to be sure, and the narrative is a little slack at times, but it stays with you, as Strube’s work always does.


Reviewer: Janice Weaver

Publisher: Thomas Allen Publishers


Price: $34.95

Page Count: 418 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-919028-37-3

Issue Date: 2000-8

Categories: Fiction: Novels

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