The Little Dog by Leslie W P Garland
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Short Story (91 pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe
The Little Dog: A story of good and evil, and retribution.
“And I saw an angel standing in the sun”
Is told by Bill, a retired forester, and takes the form of most of the stories in our lives, namely, that we have no idea that we are living a story until later when previous events suddenly seem to fall into place and make some kind of sense. Bill recounts a week in his early working life when, paired with an older, unsavoury and unpopular colleague, they find a little dog sitting beside the forest haul-road way out in a remote part of the forest. What is the little dog doing there? As the week progresses Bill finds himself becoming emotionally attached to it while also becoming increasingly concerned about just who is his objectionable workmate, and when he notices that the little dog is no longer present at its usual spot his concerns heighten, as he cannot help but feel that his workmate has something to do with the dog’s disappearance. Although a troubled Bill has a conversation with his local priest and learns of the nature of sin and evil, he remains blind to that which is right in front of him. However the very next day events suddenly take an unexpected turn and the young naive Bill starts to learn some awful truths.
They say that paying attention to how an individual treats animals is a great way to know what their character is really like. After reading this story, I’d be inclined to agree with this test.
The fantasy elements didn’t show up immediately. Once the first few hints of them did appear, I was mesmerized by how subtle and open to interpretation they were. While this isn’t the kind of writing style I’d typically expect to find in this genre, I absolutely loved it for this particular storyline. The ambiguity blended in in perfectly with the narrator’s young and innocent outlook on life.
Mr. Garland’s eloquent descriptions of the daily lives of foresters lured me into the plot immediately. He touched on everything from the proper way to cut down a tree in order to preserve as much of the wood as possible to the narrator’s mixed feelings about the gangly teenagers who worked at the ferry. There were so many moments like these that were captured in perfect detail that I felt as though I, too, had spent decades doing this job.
The little dog that Bill found on the side of the road was originally my biggest reason for wanting to read this book. I was eager to know why he was wandering around alone in the middle of nowhere and what would happen to him next. While I can’t say much about this part of the plot without giving away spoilers, I will say that it exceeded every expectation I had for it. The dog was even more intriguing than I thought he’d be, and I was quite pleased with how the author incorporated him and his backstory into what otherwise appeared to be a completely mundane workweek.
There was quite a bit of philosophical musing in this tale about why some people choose to make horrible choices in life and what the difference is between someone who makes one bad decision and someone who is objectively an awful human being. These passages turned out to be my favourite parts of the storyline other than the scenes that focused on the dog. Not only did they fit Bill’s gentle, contemplative personality perfectly, they gave me some food for thought as well!
The Little Dog is one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2016. I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who adores fantasy stories that ask the audience to think critically about what they’ve just read.