Off The Shelf: "The Dogs"

by Marcus Pan

Chain Border

The DogsI'm not quite sure where this book came from to end up on my shelf, but I needed something light and fluffy. Hey, look, barking dogs! Light and fluffy. And so it goes.

The Dogs is a bad attempt at horror. I haven't found a story about mean canines that impressed me with the single exception of Cujo, but you know I can't just toss a book I find without first giving it a chance. There are a lot of problems with this book, but there is one nice thing I can say about it. Robert Calder is a master at gore - Carpenter and his ilk don't have much on the guts, blood and protruding bone fragments of this guy. There's also a lot of it, so diehard fans of bloodcurdling fun would like the descriptive cases provided here. Especially the skinning alive parts.

The characters that Calder creates attempt to be more than they should be. Bauer is pounded by guilt and angst because he didn't train Orph properly. And because of that, he feels it is his fault that Orph has this habit of jumping out of tree lines in the mountain woods and chewing up people. Yup, his fault. Because he forgot to teach the german shepherd to roll over. So Bauer's character provides the guilt for the story, and attempts to be the associative character of the book. Oh I feel your pain, maan. Right-o.

Let's move on. Kathy, another character, who is there for no other reason than to fuck Bauer, is another one trying to be more than she is. Not only is Robert's sex scenes so bad it hurts, he then leads his characters into conversations that is something akin to Kafka meets Voltaire. And I was rather surprised about how bad the sexual situations here are - after all, he does blood good. Why not sweat? Let's leave the intellectual discussions of theology and sociology for another day and get back to the blood and gore. I also find it rather intimidating that he knows enough about dog sexual behavior to spend most of an entire chapter dedicated to detailed descriptions of canine sexual practices. Quite simply - I didn't need to know that.

But it was important. The details were unnecessary, but he does know a bit about canine sociology. The fights for dominance, the birthing of litters and the movements and habits of the wild pack both prior and following this. The litter was important to the story simply because it justifies the aggression of the dog pack, protecting young being an instinctual to-the-death sort of thing. The Dogs is, after all, a story about a wild pack of dogs terrorizing the neighborhood. And it does well in this regard, assuming you can slog through the paragraph long sentence structure. But with Calder's attempt to breathe intellectual prowess into characters like Kathy, it falls apart.

The ending was typical, but emotional nonetheless. I've had to put pets down in my time, and I can understand Bauer's feelings at having to do the same. But then again, I never had a pet that chewed a kid's face off, so I figure I'd be pretty ok with it and all if I were him - especially considering that one of Orph's victims was Bauer's own son.

The book itself has fallen apart - and I mean that in both ways. So you won't see me passing it along to somebody. And even if it wasn't more than tatters of brown paper right now, I'd probably only pass it along to somebody I don't like. And then let them wonder why Robert Calder has a better time with canine sex scenes rather than that of his own species. I find that kind of disturbing.

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"The Dogs" by Robert Calder
Published by Dell Publishing Co., Inc.
Copyright © 1976 by Robert Calder

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