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/? m S ' eviewsM H¦Ml The Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1997, 291 pp., $23 One longs for the kind of book The Lives of the Monster Dogs is billed as being: a "brilliant fictional debut," a "parable for our times," a novel that explores the boundaries between human and animal. Unfortunately , Bakis' first novel falls so short of being that book that at times I wondered if I was reading the same novel her publicist and certain reviewers were raving about. The basic conceit is quirky enough: in the first decade of the new millennium , a contingent of human-sized, walking, talking dogs comes to New York City from their isolated village of Rankstadt, in Canada. The superintelligent dogs, who read, write, wear clothes, spend a lot of money and generally act pretty much like people, are the creation of a nineteenth -century megalomaniac German scientist, Augustus Rank, who first conceived them and endowed them with prosthetic hands to form his army. After his death, Rank's disciples lived in isolation in Canada for over a century and continued his work, breeding monster dogs, until they were slain in a canine insurrection led by bad-dog Mops Hacker. The dogs then decided to go to New York, of which they'd heard dim rumors in their Canadian village. The story is told through the writings of the historian-dog, Ludwig, through Rank's papers, and through the narration of New Yorker, Cleo Pira, who is befriended by the dogs because of her resemblance to their creator's mother. Cleo can't see the resemblance, and I couldn't see why Bakis didn't give Cleo a more interesting personality. A recently jilted history graduate student (and a dogowner , of course), she seems unduly mopey over the loss of her boyfriend , John. Perhaps that is why her narrative is so uninspired. A lot of it is simply verbatim reports of her small talk with the dogs, as in this meeting with Ludwig, before an opera they're about to attend: "'How are you?' I asked. 'Oh, very well/ he replied. One of his ears turned sideways as if he was annoyed with the question. 'Tm doing well, too/ I said quickly. 'Look at the outfit I bought. Do you like it?'" In its best moments, the excerpts from Rank's papers detailing his mad experiments, the book is decently written but clichéd (Does the mad scientist have to be a German, for example?). Bakis is no stylist. There are New York Times articles 204 · The Missouri Review that don't sound very much like journalism, and an unpalatable interpolated opera about the dogs' overthrow of Rankstadt. As for the "exploration of the boundaries between human and animal," mostly that has to do with the dogs' tendency to revert to walking on all fours over time, and to make some lunges for each others' throats. Bakis definitely has an imagination , if a silly one in this book. Her next novel will almost certainly be better. But she'd do well to leave the secret lives of dogs to Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, and their hearts to Mikhail Bulgakov. (ES) A User's Guide to the Millennium by J.G. Ballard Picador, 1996, 294 pp., $23 This collection of over ninety reviews and essays (1962-1995) by the author of CrasZi and Rushing to Paradise not only guides the reader through the last thirty years in art and writing, science and science fiction , but also provides a fragmented map of Ballard's metallized autopia /autogeddon. If these short pieces feature such an array of topics that they don't really hold together as a coUection, they do, nevertheless provide sharp and distinctive insights into the twentieth century. Unlike his nihilistic literary forefather , William S. Burroughs, Ballard welcomes with a peculiar relish the growing "forest of TV aerials" and "huge shopping malls whose floors remind the visitor of a terminal concourse ." He pays homage to Burroughs , James Joyce, Andy Warhol and Salvador DaIi as cultural icons at the close of the millennium. A champion of science fiction, Ballard attests that s-f is "the only form of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 204-205
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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