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Wild Dogs

by Helen Humphreys

Helen Humphreys’ fourth novel, Wild Dogs, sure to be a hit with canine lovers everywhere, launches with a bold and poetic narrative voice. It is Alice, describing the circumstances of six strangers who’ve bonded over the loss of their dogs, now roaming as a pack in the woods. She readies us for one of the novel’s extended metaphors – “Love is like those wild dogs.”

This “club” of abandoned pooch owners – a farfetched idea – is described beautifully by Humphreys. Their individual rituals of calling out for their dogs, the way they introduce themselves to each other (“Our name. The name of the dog. The breed. Who sent the dog away”), and the unique walks each of them used to take with their respective best friends help make these people and their predicament somehow real, and fascinating.

The dynamic of this compelling group is set up, however, against a love story that is even harder to believe. Alice is only one of the book’s seven narrators, but her sections comprise the bulk of the novel and are written in second person addressed to Rachel, a lover who abandoned her. We hear too much of Alice’s frustrated reflections on love lost, in grand, vague language: “Love is momentum and love is opportunism…. I never doubted it, only wanted more of it, more of being with you.” While there are some examples of what actually happened between the lovers, there is not enough to rescue Alice’s words from cliché. The reader is never privy to what makes Rachel so attractive, what made her relationship with Alice so enthralling.

The novel form has to earn its poetics through the particular and the concrete. Wild Dogs, packed with lines of lyrical grace, at times leaves its metaphor high and dry.