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A couple of gods make a bet over drinks in a Toronto pub. As a result, fifteen canines achieve sentience, and are soon "helplessly free" (17). André Alexis's Fifteen Dogs (2015), a fabulous, award-winning short novel follows the pack to the death of the last dog.

Quasi-allegorical reflections on human behavior using animals is old indeed, and many stories have explored the streets of real cities. ...Dogs still feels original. We get the sights, but also the sounds and smells of the characters' worlds. Canine and human characters describe more than they comprehend.

Some readers have objected to the novel's dated, simplified version of dog behavior, but we have to see the core pack as trying to recapture a notion of their essential nature. They're no better in the attempt than we are, though they imagine they're doing a doggone great job.

Every dog gets its day, and its last day, as well. Some dogs die through unpredictable misfortune. The pack, predictably, turns on some. A few make a foray into a literal "garden of death..." One dog's "first premonition of death came while he was eating a piece of chicken: flesh that tasted as certain dog toys smell. It was not the way anything should taste, but it also tasted of chicken and it was good. Shortly thereafter, death stepped out from behind its curtain." (97).

Life's a bitch. Then you die.

The question is, can you die happy?

The author gets a bonus for his inclusion of dog poetry, appreciated by me, though not by many of the novel's titular canines. Some things remain constant across the lines of species. I'm impressed by how much ground this book covers, bounding across the lives of characters, and existential, philosophical, and social questions we will continue to ponder.

299 words

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