When you finish reading Even the Dogs, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll never look at a homeless or drug-besotted street person in quite the same way. Jon McGregor has tackled a difficult subject with intensity and originality. Although the novel is short on length, only 195 pages, it is long on impact.
From its first sentence: “They break down the door at the end of December and carry the body away,” the reader has the off-putting feeling that this novel will break down more than one door. Whose body? Who’s watching? As the reader follows this one body along its last journey through a system of social workers, doctors, police, and courts, we hear its story through a Greek Chorus of deceased mourners. They are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, veterans, and they have names: Robert, Heather, Steve, Laura, Danny, Ben. They even have pets, dogs named Penny and Einstein. McGregor has given heart and grit to those we the living are only too happy to pass by.
The author’s skillful use of fragmented narratives brings each character into heartbreaking and poignant clarity, but it’s not pity McGregor evokes. He’s asking for a little respect, thank you. Their life stories are only one misstep away from our own. The world they inhabit gives new meaning to the word survival. They’ve turned to drugs in all forms to make up for those parts of their lives that they’ve abandoned or have abandoned them. They’ve loved, despaired, hoped, and regretted. They drank, shot up, smoked, tried rehab, stole, and still they drank and shot up.
The novel’s lyric interweaving of these parallel lives is mesmerizing, and its hold on our minds and hearts is relentless, all the way to its last line: “We rise. What else can we do. . .?”