Even The Dogs (Jon McGregor) is like. What. Nelson Algren. William Burroughs. This is the end of the alley. The bottom of the dumpster. Most everyone will be, like Robert, going out feet first. Maybe we all will. At any rate it’s rough, with a four-day stubble. The Greek chorus of addicts and damaged children, will tug at you. These are lost souls. Souls lost in the shadows. Yet, McGregor makes them human. No small task. They bleed. They yearn.
Years after his wife had left him because of his excessive drinking (taking the child), Robert was evicted from his apartment. He still lives there. He doesn’t get out much. At least he lived there until the smell got too bad. For the neighbors that is. Dead and decomposing sometime over Christmas, the police finally break down the door and discover the sad end of Robert John Radcliffe.
Robert wasn’t a druggie, but he surrounded himself with them, using his place as a shooting gallery and crash pad. The cast of characters includes many who have been physically and psychologically damaged in wars: Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ireland.
Purposefully disjointed and choppy (it’s particularly jarring when sentences atop…mid-sentence), scenes fade into and out of one another, through time, through space. The soundtrack for this novel would be Lou Reed. Think Street Hassle or Heroin. There’s a particularly lovely riff a little over mid-way through. Ant has a damaged limb (courtesy of Helmand province, Afghanistan). Steve had once found himself on a particularly dangerous mission to Bosnia. Headed for a particular town, he’s stopped by the police and told he can’t go there: Even the dogs are dead. Even the bloody dogs. Steve’s telling Ant his story, as Ant plunges the needle into Steve’s vein. Ant remembers the Land Rover he’d been in being blown into the sky, and he remembers himself
lying in a field beside a road with the plants flattened beneath him as if he’d fallen from the sky. None of the pain he would have expected. Not yet…..only this whispering numbness, this stunned state in which it takes him a moment to understand where he is…[a roadside bomb has] lifted him from the surface of the earth and hurled him down into this field of waist-high stalks. The flower heads looking down at him where he lies, waiting. For someone to come…the blue sky. The poppies. The nodding poppy heads…
The images of the poppies and the heroin fix cannot be lost on anyone. Besides the grit and grime and despair of the drug scene, the novel gives us a bit of procedural. There’s an autopsy that may well be too graphic for many readers, but it has a rigorous sense of propriety and order. This is followed by the Coroner’s inquest.
For the denizens of Robert’s place, days are planned with an eye toward getting enough money for the next score. Panhandle, score, lift a little, score, One day bleeds into another. There’s only one reason for living. The next score, the next high. Which necessitates the next score, the next high. Yet, as McGregor writes, “time seems to pass.”
As I mentioned to a friend of mine, McGregor’s novel is just about the perfect length. You can give it a go in one sitting. But really, you wouldn’t want to spend more time with these people than that.