Friday Reads: Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis

livesmonsterdogsA Prussian mad scientist relocates to rural Canada, where he uses his mad science skills to create “monster dogs”. The dogs’ intelligence is boosted.  Instead of paws, they have prosthetic hands on their forelegs, and implanted voice boxes allow the dogs to speak.   They can also walk upright, although some need to use canes for support.  Despite these enhancements, the dogs are treated as virtual slaves in their isolated town—so isolated that it retains the scientist’s 19th-century Prussian culture—until the beasts finally revolt.  In 2008, the monster dogs arrive in Manhattan, wearing top hats and white ties.  Their new city welcomes them and things finally seem to be looking up for the dogs, but a new threat could endanger their entire existence.

If this synopsis sounds appealing, you should probably read this book.  The imaginative premise is definitely the best thing about it.  The blend of walking, talking dogs and their old-fashioned Germanic manners is very compelling, and at times this novel has an almost steampunk-like feel.  The author skillfully merges the fantastic and the antique, especially in elements like the dogs’ opera libretto, which tells the story of their Canadian uprising.

But there are a few slip-ups.  Some of the narration is handled by Cleo Pira, a young writer whom the dogs befriend.  Cleo is not an especially interesting character and her adoption by these fascinating dogs seems kind of Twilighty.  Sometimes she talks a lot about clothes instead of the talking, walking dogs that wear them.  Additionally, some of the plotting is overly loose and the ending seems a bit abrupt and unsatisfying.

But, for me, the monster dogs made up for it.  It’s a very audacious idea for a story and, even if everything doesn’t gel perfectly, this is certainly a memorable read.   This book was published almost twenty years ago and it is, to date, the author’s only novel.   It seems to have gone unnoticed, so here’s hoping that it eventually finds an audience that can appreciate its charms.

Bakis, K. (1997). Lives of the monster dogs: A novel. New York: Warner Books.

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