I don’t know quite what to make of Suzanne Berne’s The Dogs of Littlefield.
I don’t know what I expect when I started the book but… it was not what I found in the book. The cover, obviously, makes it seem as thought terrible things happen to the dogs of Littlefield, Littlefield being an upper middle class suburb sort of place in Massachusetts. And there are dogs in Littlefield, a lot of dogs. And yes, terrible things happen to the dogs. Well, just five of them, really, but still.
Dogs are not what the book is about. Dogs are… what brings the story together, I suppose you could say.
The story is more a sociological commentary on upper middle class suburbia and the way the citizens of such a place tend toward manic and depressive from one day to the next. And this would have been a super interesting idea, especially since Berne included a visiting professor studying just that. But Clarice Watkins, the professor, is not the focus of the story. She is not even the third focus of the story. She is a passing, minor character who briefly drops in to watch things. The focus of the story is on Margaret Downing, unhappy wife and frustrated mother. She becomes Clarice’s focus for the study we don’t get to really see and she is the thing which everyone else in the story reacts to and revolves around.
It sounds odd to say it that way but… it’s true. Margaret has a dog and Margaret is a suburban housewife with all the issues that would seem to come along with that. And suburbia, as Hollywood and literature tell us even if we haven’t experienced it ourselves, is made up of small circles of people caught in sometimes vicious cycles.
It is a good story. It could be a better story. There were too many times that I didn’t understand why a storyline was dropped, why Berne suddenly picked up the most remote sounding narrator’s voice where it had just been warm and relatable, and why the book ended the way it did. That is what holds the book as just “good” for me. Maybe I’m not an upper middle class suburbanite and that’s why I can’t get it.
The thing that sticks with me, though, is when Clarice Watkins asks “why aren’t they happy?” at the end of the book and… that’s what I wanted to read about. And I mostly did. But I could have read more about it.
I received a copy of The Dogs of Littlefield from NetGalley and Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.