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THE WAY OF THE DOG by Sam Savage


by Sam Savage

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-56689-312-1
Publisher: Coffee House

An aging, embittered art collector looks back on a life defined by his brief friendship with a successful painter.

Sardonic humor leavens what would otherwise seem like a solipsistic reckoning of Harold Nivenson’s injuries, beginning with mean siblings and culminating with the death of his dog, Roy, some vague amount of time earlier. Harold lives in a decaying house in an urban area that has morphed from “a district of aging working-class white people drinking cheap beer on collapsing porches...[into] a neighborhood of middle-class breeders.” He thinks of himself as alone and friendless, though a woman named Moll (whose relationship to him is initially unclear) has moved in to care for him, and the son he calls Alfie (not his real name) pays frequent visits. Harold is unwilling to acknowledge any attachment save Roy’s; the routines of owning a dog gave his shattered life meaning, and he imagines Roy sharing the canine wisdom that “[e]very day is all there is.” By contrast, Harold believes Alfie has come only to get his art collection appraised, and his bitter memories of Peter Meininger—creator of the sole valuable painting, according to the appraiser—characterize the artist as a user who took refuge in Harold’s house, worked there and slept with Harold’s wife, then decamped, leaving Nude in Deck Chair as an insulting reminder of the wife’s infidelity. Harold is at first an alienating narrator, as he snipes at everyone from his neighbors to his relatives, but we gradually see that he has never been as detached from the world as he pretends and that he is in fact hungry for human contact. Though he decries even the stark basic scenario of “man is born, suffers, and dies” as “too much of a story,” Harold comes to accept love—maybe even to think about giving it in return.

Stream-of-consciousness fiction with a satisfying emotional weight: another intriguing experiment in narrative voice from Savage (Glass, 2011, etc.).