Dog Meat - by Priscilla Bettis
I was looking forward to reading Dog meat, from Priscilla Bettis, having already read her novelette “The Hay Bale”, which has a charmingly educated voice. The intelligence behind the pacing, the plot – it was wonderfully done, if somewhat short. Obviously, when Priscilla announced the upcoming release of this longer novella, I jumped at the chance to add it to my collection.
I have to say straight up, I didn’t like this one. And that may not seem as controversial as normal, given the subject matter, that of dog meat and the killing of dogs for human consumption, and the trade that exists in certain countries in the world, fictional or not. One wouldn’t necessarily expect everyone to like the subject. I have to say that the subject matter, though, didn’t bother me. I am not squeamish about reading about animal cruelty or death – though Priscilla does do a wonderful job of illustrating that process.
For me, it boiled down to the main character, who is deliberately devoid of emotion.
The concept of a person so emotionally damaged through their lifestyle and life choices, that they want to kill themselves, yet cannot be emotionally invested enough to go through with it – and who trudges through life emotionally disconnected – well the concept is great. For me, it just read flat. The series of events that happen to and around the character, happened, and he went through the book uncommitted to any desire. His self-loathing was mentioned occasionally, yet I didn’t believe it due to his lack of response to any stimulus. I get the idea that the horror of his life has crippled his ability to show or feel emotion, yet it still read as if everything that happened to him did so without him caring about any of it. Incarcerated in a prison? Forced to do hard labour? I didn’t feel anything about it, because he didn’t. It happened. It was interesting, but I was as emotionally detached as the MC.
There’s a reveal near the end of the book that was – for me at last – quite clear from the beginning. I get that some people won’t have thought about it. But the comparisons to life, physicality etc, were too clear to have not seen. The story behind that build up, was for me, the highlight of the novella, I got the first glimpse at something resembling an emotion – lust – from the main character. The back story lent some humanity to a woman that lived in the same house as the MC, yet in reflection, she's the one that shops the MC to the police in the first place. That he doesn't really care is another discussion.
The ending is clinical and brutal, yet hypocritical. If the main character has any empathy (or understanding of that emotion) for another character, given their relationship, his request of the boy shows his absolute lack of humanity, given the same end could have been achieved on his own. His absolute disregard for any emotional impact he has on the boy due to his request, illustrates his own lack of emotion or reasoning. If he cannot care about the emotional damage he will possibly inflict on that boy, why should we likewise care about any aspect of his “suffering”?
This was a book I stopped frequently - physically putting the book down – out of frustration with the main character. That might be exactly what Priscila wanted of course, to create a character that is repugnant in his apathy to his own life – and inability or unwillingness to commit to changing it. There aren’t any empathetic characters in the book, each of them is self-indulgent, self-centered and selfish. Probably an effect of the society they find themselves in. The ray of light is the doctor in the prison, who is dealt with quickly and removed from the action.
Dog meat is well written, Bettis’ writing is clean and simple here, sometimes Brian Bowyer-esque in its simplicity (to this reader’s eye). It presents an unemotional story in order to highlight the horrific subject matter, that of the dog meat trade, and it does achieve that goal – any animal exploitation is horrific (to this vegetarian’s mind), but that lack of humanity, for me, made reading it uncomfortable, frustrating and distant. Not the subject matter, but the presentation of the story.
This gets 3★’s from me. I liked the concept, I liked the subject matter, but it was a hard read, and not due to the subject matter, but because of detachment to any character.
You can pick up a copy of Dog Meat, by clicking on the appropriate Amazon link, below:
You can visit Priscilla's website, HERE
You can find Priscilla on Twitter, HERE