An entertaining pack of canine-themed short stories ranging from the 19th century to the present day.
In assembling the 20 stories in this collection, editor Tesdell takes pains to avoid the hoariest doggie clichés—no Marley-ish melodrama or Lassie-like derring-do here. But even the most serious authors seem to employ dogs for a narrow range of literary purposes, usually as a way to amplify human foibles. In Jonathan Lethem’s “Ava’s Apartment” (an excerpt from his 2009 novel, Chronic City), a three-legged dog mirrors the emotional incompleteness of the story’s protagonist, a dissolute rock critic. P.G. Wodehouse’s hilarious “The Mixer” is narrated by a dog caught up in a hamfisted burglary scheme that’s upended by his sense of loyalty and generosity. And the dog walker in Lydia Millet's “Sir Henry” is befuddled by simple human interactions, so smitten is he with the moral purity of his charges. The dogs are rarely menacing—though stories from Patricia Highsmith and Ray Bradbury take gruesome turns—but in Tesdell’s hands, dogs and melancholy tend to be close companions. That’s most pronounced in Doris Lessing’s “The Story of Two Dogs,” in which the relationship between two farm dogs declines in relation to the affection they receive, and it’s also apparent in the dialogue a widower has with his companion in Tobias Wolff's “Her Dog,” and in the funereal hunting trip Thomas McGuane describes in “Flight.” This anthology isn’t a persistent downer, but the comic pieces are slightly less common: In addition to the Wodehouse tale, the collection includes a James Thurber classic, “Josephine Has Her Day,” a study in dog-owner loyalty, Anton Chekhov’s “Kashtanka,” in which a dog runs off with the circus, and best of all Mark Twain’s “A Dog’s Tale,” in which a dog’s feat of heroism reveals the foolishness of the pet's owners. Alas, the most recent of that batch of stories was published in the 1920s, suggesting that the funny dog story may simply be a thing of the past.
Though a little on the somber side, a charming assortment of stories that give the species the respect it deserves.