Jul 18, 2011

Hijacked! Kirkus's Review of The Dust of 100 Dogs

In an effort to explore just how subjective book reviewing is, I am going to use a Kirkus review to contrast my views on an excellent book.

In 2009, Kirkus reviewed A.S. King's debut novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs. Below their review is in blue and my followup in (green).

Cursed by a strange man (strange does not do justice to the bizarre and pivotal character to whom the review refers) just after losing her one true love, Irish pirate Emer Morrissey must live 300 years in the bodies of various dogs before being reincarnated in 1972 as human Saffron Adams (I found the name Saffron to be completely arbitrary, especially since her mother is illiterate). Saffron retains all of Emer’s memories and is thought to be a genius for her great knowledge of history (and life/social skills!). As Saffron drags the reader through her uninspired life in a dysfunctional Pennsylvania family (where she is constantly suffocated by the hopes her underprivileged parents have placed on her future), she makes plans to travel to Jamaica and dig up the treasure that she buried there as Emer, 300 years ago. Later in the book (between the beginning and the 'later' Emer survives a Cromwellian battle in Ireland, is shipped off to Paris, and conquers the high seas of the Caribbean one European ship at a time), King introduces the creepy Fred (├╝ber creepy!), who has deviant sexual tendencies and carries on conversations with his mother in his head (among others)—and whose connection to Emer/Saffron isn’t revealed until the end (although the magnetism is apparent from the beginning). With its sloppy, uneven pacing, kitchen-sink plot (this implies that King threw in everything she could get her hands on, while I vehemently feel she was true to each separate time of Emer/Saffron's life with the abrupt changes) and boring characters, even the most loyal of pirate mateys will wish that Saffron and Fred would simply walk the plank (definitely true about the latter, and slightly true about the former until Saffron makes a change). The language is anachronistic during Emer’s story (I felt genuinely placed in 17th century Ireland and the Caribbean, although a few "slip-ups" seemed evident) and lacks spark when Saffron narrates (Saffron's narration feels realistic coming from a bored, pseudo-genius in Pennsylvania during the early Nineties). Despite Emer’s pirate adventures (the very best part of the book!), there is little excitement and the ending is anticlimactic (King is becoming known for her "anti-climactic" endings, she proves the real treasure was there all along). This is not buried treasure, just fool’s (<---that's me) gold. (Fantasy. YA (with elements of magical realism and lackluster lower middle class reality))


Perhaps this is nontraditional and a little brazen, but I found the exercise to be fun and helpful to my writing skills. The kirkus review is well-written after all, I just happen to disagree with most of its points. I reviewed King's followup, Please Ignore Vera Dietz (a Printz Honor book), a month ago. Both books contain mature writing and anarchic messages. King's next novel, Everybody Sees the Ants, comes out this fall - I very much look forward to writing that review.

14 comments:

  1. I thought you liked the book though? Or maybe I'm just confused at what you did here.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I didn't read your review (although I'm sure it's wonderful!) because I'm planning on reading this book and didn't want to risk any spoilers. (I don't even read inside flaps.) I want to thank you for the reminder, though. I loved Please Ignore Vera Dietz and had forgotten about this other gem that King wrote.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Laura - I'm sorry that I confused you. Basically, I loved the book so much that when I read the Kirkus review, the first thoughts that came to mind were to refute what it said in my own words, but use their format as a guide.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am now fascinated by the idea of this book--thanks for this double "review". :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. MG - Thanks for stopping by though! DUST is a quick read, so I imagine you'll be able to come back and comment on this review soon.

    Heather - You'll like it, but I know you'll have serious issues with some things. I am excited to see if I have the things pegged.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Your analysis looks awesome...I'm coming back here when I don't have a boy jumping on my chair.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What an interesting way to do a review! I liked yours much better :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Mr. Arntson, I'm wondering if you've discovered a new literary form. Love the over-review. An onion review, pealing back the layers? Ooh, and how about a novel structured like a review w/additional reviewers reviewing and commenting in parentheses... almost a conversation. Last week I referred to Heather as Gertrude Stein - you, developer of new literary styles, are key to the salon.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I agree with Ali - I like your review format.

    ReplyDelete
  10. That was cool! Interestingly, I think you and Kirkus compliment each other. This is teh kind of review I'd actually like to read, because you can "see" more perspectives from it.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Ali - Thanks, I thoroughly enjoyed writing it!

    Robert - Wow, thanks! *taking a bow*

    T - Thanks :)

    Anita - I agree, complimentary words make for a well-rounded review.

    ReplyDelete
  12. What a strange, strange plot for a book :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Jonathan, this post is awesome. It also allows me to understand why this book didn't do better. Kirkus, bah. I consider Dust of 100 Dogs one of my all time, I've read a few books, favorites.
    The original review really sold the story short. King did an awesome job weaving past and present and the various characters together. I highly recommend the book! ;)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Found it. Had to search your blog. Sorry I missed this.

    Anyway, the thing is - The Dust of 100 Dogs is not a book for morons. I think it's that fact that may have confused the Kirkus people. Saffron is apathetic, and narrates her tale in a way that fits with that, because of the situation she is in. Emer's narration sounds anachronistic, because she is not actually telling the story at the time it took place, and has since lived for centuries, soaking up all kinds of other culture.

    Personally, I think this book is genius, but I can totally understand how it would not appeal to a reader who doesn't like to have to think.

    ReplyDelete

:D