The Dog is A Book
Books with yellow covers do not sell. I was reminded of this piece of publishing lore while messaging with a friend about The Dog. “Fascinated by the cover,” he wrote. “Seemed deliberately designed to be blank, uninviting & uncomfortable.”
Wrapping an impenetrable, consumer-deterring cover around a book whose contents dare you not to like it is the coolest, bravest thing I’ve seen a publisher do in a while. Then again, I can’t think of a better way to warn Joseph O’Neill fans that we are definitely not in Netherland anymore. Netherland, his acclaimed elegiac post-9/11 New York novel, is vivid and full of grace; The Dog, set primarily in Dubai, is a 240-page rant from a lonely, somewhat despicable corporate refugee. Among my Netherland-loving friends, there were equal numbers of Dogfans and those who wanted to throw this book across the room. The critical response has been equally divided: In the Times, The Dog received a glowing write-up in the Sunday book review—and one of most scathing reviews I’ve ever read in the daily paper. The charge: That The Dog was a messy, rambling screed from narrator who was unpleasant to listen to.
So what is this polarizing, off-putting book about? The narrator, an unnamed lawyer who left New York because of a vaguely described professional /romantic disgrace, has taken a position as the “family officer” of the wealthy Batros clan in Dubai. He resides in a luxury tower called The Situation in a neighborhood called Privilege Bay, hires a butler named Ali, and is burdened with a lazy intern named Alain. The names and details of life in Dubai—his car, his neighbors, his deluxe massage chair, the history of a scuba-diving-related disappearance that goes nowhere—are gratuitous and grotesque, where the omitted specifics of his New York life seem hollow and depraved. This has the off-kilter effect of making Dubai feel sharp and New York seem hazy, while at the same time, it gives both lands common ground in being rotten