What’s a “meta for” if not analogy? And does Charles Davis ever go “over” and “above” expected comparisons in Walking the Dog, the novel that follows his impressive fiction debut, Walk On, Bright Boy. The earlier work, a medieval allegory in the form of a memoir, was as haunting as it was original. In Walking the Dog Davis delivers once again on “original.” The only connections between the two books, so different in intention and effect, the first a lyrical quest tragedy, the new one a fantasy-satire-farce, are that they both draw on Spanish culture, explore elemental truths about the human condition and are written in highly literate style. But that’s saying a lot, particularly about the author’s inventiveness. If Walk On, Bright Boy evokes the still sad music of humanity, Walking the Dog trips to the beat of a limbo.
Walking the Dog is an imaginative spoof on the absurdities and corruptions of life. There are references aplenty to “walking the dog,” but also to “walking the dogs,” this latter phrase understood as exercising a group of leashed canines, a job Herrera, the compliant narrator, takes on in a rare burst of entrepreneurial spirit. A lowly clerk and the unfortunate relative of some gross-out characters, Herrera has lived all his life on Santa Margarita y Los Monjes (there actually is an island by this name in an archipelago off Venezuela). But before the phrase is taken up literally, so to speak, and goes to the dogs, it’s used metaphorically. “Walking the dog” can mean hanging out, escaping obligations, doing what you want—akin, perhaps to the yo-yo maneuver of letting the disc sleep near the ground, humming away, no further action needed. But “walking the dog” also has a “woofter” context here, “woofter” being rhyming Cockney slang for a gay announcing himself by exposure, and there are other “unfortunate connotations in demotic speech,” Herrera lets on. But who knows for sure what is intended from a mischievously madcap author whose jacket bio identifies him as having been “born and educated” and “traveled” and who now “lives and works.”
Walking the Dog may be over the top for readers who like their satire strongly plotted and unalloyed with zany humor, but those who stay with this episodic, antic romp will be rewarded with some outrageous humor, much of it metaphorically sexual; pointed criticism (particularly on water boarding, globalization, spiritualism, democratic elections, information overload and retirement communities) and highly literate prose: the Marx Brothers meet the Oxford English Dictionary. The very first sentence sets the linguistic level: “My Aunt Dolores is a querulous woman, much given to lamenting the many Woes she has dragooned into service over the years.” Herrera, Dolores’ nephew, is cousin to his aunt’s two lunatic sons, referred to only as “The Boys.” They are a Simian force of nature, who gaze out on life, when they’re not destroying it “stupefied (if that’s not a tautology”). But, well, they’re family.
Herrera’s not immune from moral turpitude, but his transgressions pale in comparison with those of his fellow Margamonjans, especially the island’s Fernando Marcos-like President for Life and his Imelda-like wife. But because Herrera’s “regarded as a nonentity; someone so inoffensive, so bland, so undistinguished, so boring, so innocuous, so devoid of any distinctive personality,” he’s tapped to be The Boys’ campaign manager when it’s decided they should oppose the president. Don’t ask.
The women, most with metaphoric names (Dolores, of course, means woe, which she invokes as a way of life) are monstrously fat, except for the Low Women (whores), and the men are corrupt, weak and ethically irresponsible, though these attributes are nothing compared with the sophisticated behavior by visitors from the “overdeveloped” world, many of them diplomats, business executives and charity workers. It’s a bit much at times, especially the clever but strained malapropisms of a linguistic idiot savant, Magritte, housekeeper to Good God Donald, a reverend who mainly reveres himself; a witch doctor, Georgie Pujol, who suspends gravity for a while; the undertaker, Mr. Bagwell; and several other island cuckoos, but it’s all good, uneven, if not always (thank the Lord) clean, fun. And Davis scores some neat political, cultural and psychological points. At the end Herrera manages to settle in, in “Joy’s bed” (a person and a state of mind) and find contentment. “The world is where you’re at. /Am I right or am I right?/Let the dog walk itself./Nobody but me. /Me and thee./So let it be.”
Causes Charles Davis Supports
Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace