Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog follows the intricate, guilt-ridden thoughts of an unnamed American expatriate working at a fund controlled by a wealthy family in Dubai. Plot threads—such as the disappearance of a fellow expatriate, or the narrator’s babysitting his boss’ dull teenage son—come and go, but most of this novel takes place in the narrator’s head.
He examines, and often rationalizes, his inaction in the face of the wrongs around and within him. After musing on the situation of immigrant construction workers in Dubai, he concludes that “I have run the numbers, and I’m satisfied that I have given the situation of the foreign labor corps, and my relation to it, an appropriate measure of consideration and action.” Such trains of thought aren’t commendable, but they’re honest—he’s not the only one who pushes a social issue out of thought because of how little he can do about it. (In his defense, he does speak of making a monthly donation to a relevant NGO.) Coupled with moments of vulnerability (“I think what I’ve wanted, most of the time, is someone nice and safe to hang out with.”), these make him a compelling if unsympathetic character, not only a vehicle for musings.
The Dog is an indulgent novel, and much of the time this works in its favor. There are many long, meandering sentences that make up long, meandering passages on topics including the narrator’s stamps, or the relief he feels when he’s on the toilet. The best of such passages illuminate his psyche, but some, particularly the technical, faux-legal ones, merely revisit his earlier thoughts and add nothing but clunky prose.
It’s tempting to say that The Dog could have been a slimmer and better-edited novel, but as the boring and compelling bits are so tightly interwoven, it’s hard to see how O’Neill or an editor could have taken out one without removing the other as well. The dull stretches here are the tolerable byproducts of such an intimate look at a guilty inner life.
–Available 9/9 from Pantheon Press