Brief synopsis: Set somewhere in the UK, Bill, a young man working in the lumber industry, spends a week working with an unfriendly partner. His interactions lead him to ponder such questions as “what makes someone good or evil?”. At the same time, a disappearance from the local village worms its way from a background comment to a full-blown mystery directly involving Bill and his partner.
The Little Dog is the first of four novella-length stories collected in The Red Grouse Tales by Leslie W.P. Garland. The setting and presentation are reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, but the content and writing are not. In the Forward the narrator gives a cluttered introduction, explaining that there is no real purpose to the tales which follow except that the narrator himself found them interesting and meaningful.
Throughout The Little Dog there are several levels of narration, including a frame story in which Bill (who could possibly be the same person as the unnamed narrator in the Forward, but I think more likely he is not) telling his story to some friends decades later. As the story unfolds, Bill spontaneously switches from telling the story to his friends, who would know more about the immediate area, to acting like he is telling the story to an unknown audience who would not, to simply talking to himself. It can cause reading whiplash from time to time if you aren’t watching out for it.
Frankly, I didn’t get much out of this story. The copy that I received to review appears to need a few more rounds of editing. The text was simply littered with typos, run-on sentences, and misused commas. I usually consider myself a relatively quick reader, but I had to read this slowly in order to understand what I think the author meant to say from what was actually said. I don’t blame Garland for this, I simply think the book ought to have been edited more thoroughly before being released.
Unfortunately, the need for editing is not contained simply to grammar issues. There are so many things which I could discuss, but I’ll stick to the ones that had the biggest impact on my overall distaste for the book. The idea behind the story is creative, but all of the elements are not drawn together well. There are so many layers of stories, plus the occasional theological/philosophical ramblings, and none of it lines up well. The themes only connect to the top-level story in shallow, obvious ways. The topics Garland tackles are deep, but addressed and then dropped too abruptly to have much impact.
I originally intended to read all of the stories in The Red Grouse Tales, but after finishing The Little Dog, I have decided not to continue at this time. If a more revised version is released, I may pick it up again at a later date. At this point, I am not willing to spend more time on something which reads more like a first draft than a finished product. A lot of work will have to be done before I can recommend The Little Dog or The Red Grouse Tales without significant reservation.