COLD DOG SOUP by Stephen Dobyns


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This deadpan black comedy (by a writer also known for his mysteries and poetry collections) tracks two men trying to dispose of a dead dog during one long hard night in New York City. The lead, Latchmer, is new to the city. He meets Sarah in the whirlpool of their neighborhood health club; he's Xerox, she's IBM. She invites him to dinner at the apartment she shares with her mother and their old red dog, Jasper. The atmosphere is charged: strait-laced mother and kinky nymphomaniac daughter make an odd couple. Then Jasper up and dies (heart-attack?), and Latchmer promises to bury him, but later falls in with the suggestion of his Haitian cab-driver Jean-Claude that they sell it. Easier said than done: the pair are turned down by an illegal animal lab, some loony furriers breeding giant gerbfis, an ancient Oriental restaurateur who serves cocker spaniels, and an emporium for sex toys. The strangeness of this night-journey is compounded for Latchmer by two other elements: his sudden ability to tell stories (shaggy-dog stories, natch), and a flood of memories of a guilt-laden childhood episode involving sex and death. But by daybreak, Latchmer has had a revelation: the dead dog represents his own guilt feelings. He must move forward. Placing his mouth on the dog's, he sucks its spirit into himself, tosses the body into a garbage truck and, liberated at last, jumps a subway turnstile. Dobyns is an elegant craftsman who opens with a sparkling absurdist gloss on the contemporary mating game, but then lets the fun fizzle as he attempts an unworkable splice of his canine high-jinks with a somber recollection of childhood pain and confusion, and imposes a wretchedly trite resolution.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking