Like those of many poets, Wagoner's novels have generally been quirky hybrids--and this is one of the quirkiest, a...



Like those of many poets, Wagoner's novels have generally been quirky hybrids--and this is one of the quirkiest, a half-whimsical bit of small-town horror/ gothic that doesn't quite work on any of its levels. Simon Burrows has just resigned as mayor of a city (his nasty estranged wife is now trying to get elected as his replacement); and he impulsively asks a beautiful, young near-stranger, dog-trainer Diane, to join him for the weekend at his just-bought, get-away-from-it-all farm, where he plans to breed bull terriers. Witty, breezy Diane eventually agrees, but when they arrive they find that Simon's newly purchased terriers are missing. And an enusing investigation reveals that the local dogcatcher (whose drunken father is supposedly Simon's caretaker) is a retarded psycho who's been mistreating animals at the pound, probably torturing and killing animals all over the neighborhood. (The title refers to this psycho's heinous torture chamber in the woods.) So Simon and Diane (with time out for lovemaking al fresco) try to rouse the town mayor, save as many dogs as possible, and capture this gross dogcatcher--but the real evil stems instead from a Whatever Happened to Baby Jane-ish mÉnage of past-obsessed females; and before ultimate escape and rescue, Simon finds himself drugged, caged, tied to a bed, presented with meals of insects and other disgusting matter. A gruesome scenario (three humans are also killed), but it's oddly unsuspenseful--largely because the archness of Wagoner's narration seems to escalate in direct proportion to the accumulating Grand Guignol. (When Simon finds his neck in a lethal wire loop, ""It wasn't nausea or the Fell Clutch of Circumstance or a foulard tie-knot"" grabbing at his throat.) And the images that run throughout--bestiality, corruption (political and otherwise)--only seem heavily contrived, while the Simon/Diane romance lapses into terminal coyness (""I'll not only be careful of you, I'll be careful in you, on you, over you, under you, by you,"" etc., says Simon, showing off his education in prepositions). Intermittently intriguing, with occasional well-turned phrases, but mostly fey and half-hearted.

Pub Date: July 2, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1980