A Dog’s View of Love, Life, and Death, by J. R. Archer – book review by Fred Patten

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer

A Dog’s View of Love, Life, and Death, by J. R. Archer
Hove, England, White Crow Books, June 2017, trade paperback $14.99 (ix + 299 pages), Kindle $4.99.

This is an intriguing fantasy, but from an anthropomorphic point of view, it’s ultimately unsatisfying.

The locale is New York City. The chapters are short. In chapter one, Svetlana witnesses Robbie commit suicide, leaving Rosie, a small dog. In chapter two, rich, elderly Margaret Roper and her small dog Rags are introduced. In chapter three, young Black police officer Teddy Dwight investigates Robbie’s suicide and takes charge of Rosie. In chapter four, Margaret has a fatal heart attack. Her son Will, who has anger issues, is mostly resentful at the inconvenience her funeral will cause him. He breaks his promise to look out after Rags, who is sent to a dog shelter.

Most of the first nine chapters are entirely about the human cast. The dogs are little more than props. Other important characters are young Milo McGarry, the conscientious Black receptionist at the East 110th Street dog shelter (which is expected to go out of business soon), where Rosie and Rags are taken; two other dogs there: Lennon, a hulking but kindly Great Dane, and Darcy, a rescued Greyhound ex-racing dog; Sebastian, Svetlana’s pet Borzoi-German Shepherd mix; and Elton, Milo’s long-haired Chihuahua.

The dogs finally talk in chapter Ten. Chapters Thirteen, Fifteen, and some others are also devoted to the dogs, but for an anthropomorphic novel, it’s too little, too late.

The dogs don’t talk verbally but mind-to-mind.

“‘Allow me to introduce myself, Lennon, my name is Rags.’

The Great Dane sat up, looking surprised. ‘How’d ya know my name?’

‘It came to me as soon as we connected.’

‘Seriously? … I’ve never been able to do that. Have you just arrived, little fella?’

‘I got in early this morning.’

‘Rags, if you want a heads up, I’ve been here for a while now, and for me it’s home. I don’t know how long you’re gonna be here but, while you are, let’s be friends.’” (p. 47)

Some of the dogs, especially Rags, are deep into reincarnation.

“‘Well, let’s just say I’m a little further along the path than you, and I’ve learned to do these things.’

Lennon stretched his long legs and walked round Rags, looking mystified. ‘What do you mean, ‘a little further along the path?’” He scrutinized the little dog. ‘I’m the old timer here. You still look like a pup.’

‘That’s true, my friend. As humans measure time I’ve been here for a little over a year, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean is, I’ve experienced more here than you have – maybe not in this lifetime but in others. Although when I say ‘I’, I don’t mean Rags – Rags is just the name a human gave me while I’m in this body. It would be more accurate to say my body is called Rags, but I’m not my body. Speaking of bodies, do we get exercised here? Mine could do with a run.’” (p. 48)

They are also deep into giving moral support to each other and, telepathically/subconsciously, to their humans.

“Rosie pushed the bowl round the kennel until there wasn’t a scrap of food in sight. Meanwhile, Darcey pricked up her ears.

‘What brings you to the shelter, Rosie?’

‘My owner jumped off a roof last night and killed himself.’

‘How horrible.’

‘How about you?’

‘My owners were killed in a car crash.’

Rosie burped. ‘That’s too bad.’

Darcey got up and stretched her long limbs. ‘It is. I really loved those people.’

‘We love all humans, greyhound, but they do dumb things. I’m amazed they live so long.’” (p. 60)

It seems to come to interspecies communication when Milo brings Rosie home one evening and she beams her thoughts to Milo’s father, Seamus. But he’s paralyzed from an accident and can’t talk, and he doesn’t believe in the voice in his head, anyhow.

The humans in A Dog’s View of Love, Life, and Death (cover by Astrid) work out their own problems without being aware of their dogs’ subconscious guidance, which is so tenuous that the humans often frustratingly ignore it anyhow. The novel is basically a soap opera about the humans involved, with the dogs as an unnoticed Greek chorus. The dogs may talk, but this isn’t really a furry novel.

Fred Patten

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