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Dogs of Truth

by Kit Reed

(Tor, 286 pages, advance uncorrected proof, will be available as trade paperback priced $14.95, published September 2005.)

Review by John Toon

cover scanCan't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. The family is the predominant theme of the stories in Kit Reed's collection Dogs of Truth -- the dark side of it, the desire to escape, the terrible adventures of those who do. "Escape From Shark Island" is a fine example, and the story out of this collection that has persisted the most strongly in my mind. In it, a mother insists on keeping her large family permanently together in one enormous bed and exhibiting them on their own TV show, so that the nation can bask in their exaggerated family values. The eldest kids find out what happens to those who try to escape the Family Bed. It's a harsh and grotesque examination of traditional family values.

"Visiting the Dead" shows us the other extreme, a woman who doesn't want to move on from her parents, who visits them even in their backwoods necropolis where they and other dead souls reminisce with her and her young daughter. Desperate parents enrol their teenagers -- they're out of control!! -- at "High Rise High", a maximum security boarding school that falls to a youth revolution. While the kids live in anarchy and besiege the teaching staff, the FBI try to infiltrate and take back the school without crossing the mothers who've suddenly decided they don't want their little darlings to come to grief. In "Incursions", Dave flees the commuter train that symbolises his old routine life and joins a community of runaway Daves. A young couple are menaced by other people's squalling babies in "The Shop of Little Horrors", while in "Playmate" a mother's wish for the perfect child is uncannily answered.

Other stories feature other obsessions than family, all damaging in their way. A woman becomes too deeply involved in the soap opera she's supposed to be focus-grouping. A disease-obsessed populace stays indoors and has everything delivered to their hermetically sealed homes through airlock porches, with the ultimate being human contact by mail order. Amusingly and darkly, a Muslim extremist who has sworn to carry out the long-revoked fatwah against Salman Rushdie finally corners him in a packed baseball stadium, both men in their decrepit old age. All these stories share one common feature: superbly detailed characters, characters who dictate the story and not the other way around. They often take unexpected turns.

Seventeen stories, each unique, all arresting, await the reader of this volume. Their insights into human existence may be unsettling and sometimes even cynical, but they never miss their mark.

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