- A Dog with No Name
256 Pages; Print, $15.95
There is no federal income tax for individuals in the United Arab Emirates. So why aren’t there more Americans moving to Dubai or Abu Dhabi? Perhaps because along with Eritrea, the United States is the only nation that requires all citizens and permanent residents to pay federal income tax regardless of where they reside. The only tax haven for a US citizen, ironically, is the office of a US ambassador or consul in a foreign country. According to the State Department, anyone wishing to renounce her or his citizenship must appear in person before a US consular or diplomatic officer in a foreign country (normally at a US Embassy or Consulate), and sign an oath of renunciation. Even a renunciation “may have no effect whatsoever on his or her US tax or military service obligations,” and interested parties are encouraged to “contact the Internal Revenue Service or US Selective Service for more information.” As a result, fewer Americans seem to view the U.A.E. as a desirable home than other global citizens.
The narrator of Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog is no exception in that he finds himself in the U.A.E. without any “interest in Dubai qua Dubai.” He has not so much come to Dubai as he has left New York:
Few Americans move here, the usual explanation being that we must pay federal taxes on worldwide income and will benefit relatively little from the fiscal advantages the United Arab Emirates offers its denizens. This theory is, I think, only partly right. A further fraction of the answer must be that the typical American candidate for expatriation to the Gulf, who might without disparagement be described as the mediocre office worker, has little instinct for emigration. To put it another way, a person usually needs a special incentive to be here—or, perhaps more accurately, to not be elsewhere…
O’Neill’s narrator has just such an incentive. After a terrible and professionally embarrassing break-up with his girlfriend and co-worker, Jenn, he is desperate to get out of New York. Eddie Batros, an old friend from his college days in Dublin, invites the narrator to leave his law firm and the ruins of his relationship behind and come work for the immensely wealthy Batros family. Thus, our narrator becomes the “Batros family trustee” and moves to Dubai.
Most readers who know O’Neill’s work will have read Netherland, which was first published in 2008 and then won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 2009. After laughing my way through the first half of The Dog, I had to go back and pick up Netherland because I didn’t remember it being funny. The earlier novel is a stylistic powerhouse, well wrought, deftly arranged, and not very funny. The Dog is just as elegantly crafted, but funny. Very funny. During the denouement of their relationship, the narrator suggests to Jenn that they get a dog. When she expresses her clear wishes not to “live with a dog,” he rationalizes:
Jenn was not being unkind. Far from it. She was honestly ascertaining her wants and communicating them economically and clearly. It was her form of considerateness, and I received it as such, and I still view it as such. Another way to state the matter would be: she was being Jenn. This was enormously consequential. Since I had made a binding commitment to Jenn the implied condition of which was to be with Jenn, i.e., the person characterized above all by Jenn-ness, it followed that, if Jenn was being Jenn, then I had no good grounds for complaint about those actions of hers which, though they might provide grounds for complaint if they were the actions of another, were essentially instances of her being herself. Jenn understood this.
The rationalization goes on like this for [End Page 10] another page and intensifies when he asks, “Why not?” and she replies, “I’m not interested in dogs. I’m not a dog person. You know that...