The Dust of 100 Dogs (by A.S. King)

3 07 2011

One of the books that the cat was most impressed with this year was A.S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz. It was so more-ish, that King’s debut The Dust of 100 Dogs, just couldn’t go unread. Not really knowing what to expect (or really not expecting very much at all) of a story that was advertized as a ‘pirate story’, two things became abundantly clear: 1) this is definitely not Pirates of the Caribbean! 2) A.S. King does like to shake things up! That is both a good and a bad thing!

The Good

1. The Dust of 100 Dogs is time- as well as genre-bending.

The novel starts with Emer – 17th century infamous teenage pirate – who is cursed by a Frenchman to live the life of 100 dogs before she will become human again. From then on, we get shifts through time and space, from Emer in Ireland in the 1650s, to Emer in Paris, Tortuga in the 1660s…, to Saffron in America in the 20th century, to Fred Livingston in Jamaica, etc. It takes the reader a while to figure out what is what, or who is who, but in all that is not necessarily a bad thing. It forces the reader to get all in, and to think outside of the box. Boxes and cages, after all, can never be a dog’s best friend. Also when it comes to genre, King likes to shake things up a little: is this a pirate story? Is it a coming of age story? Is it chicklit? Is it any of these, none of these? What is genre anyway? What is, for that matter, a YA-book anyway, and is The Dust of 100 Dogs one? It is a question that A.S. King is asked as well, and in the interview at the end of the book she says that whatever it is “it is, by no means, exact.” (p. 325)

2. The Dust of 100 Dogs is oozing with ideas that linger on.

Just like it is difficult to pinpoint the exact genre (Historical fiction? Contemporary coming of age?) of this novel, you can’t just say “The Dust of 100 Dogs is about ____.” and be done with it. This definitely refers back to the first point the cat discussed, about bending things. Whenever an author has the intention to make his/her readership think you get books oozing with ideas that linger on long after you’re done reading. Those are the cat’s most favorite books! Some of these ideas are worked out quite well.  Here it is definitely the idea that depending on the circumstances someone is in (e.g. contemporary America vs 1650s Ireland) and the decisions one makes (or is forced to make) based on those circumstances, you get the same or different outcomes to someone’s personal history. How is Saffron the same as Emer? How is she different from her? How would someone like the 1650s Frenchman play out in the 20th century? Other ideas, however, do never get the proper attention they deserve in the span of those mere 320 pages. E.g. the circumstances of Saffron’s family in America in the 20th century: her mother is apparently a drunk, her father probably suffers from PTSD (due to his tour of duty), her brother Junior is definitely a junk…the cat feels these aspects are never really looked at in much detail.

3. The Dust of 100 Dogs is bursting with ambition.

There’s no denying this: A.S. King is one hell of an ambitious writer who challenges her readership. The cat likes this. Moreover, A.S. King definitely has the talent to match this ambition. Vera Dietz was fresh, witty and exciting, both in theme and in execution, but the seeds were already there in The Dust of 100 Dogs. No silly adolescent chicklit despite the fact both books feature female teenage protagonists. Nope. These are girls with a mind of their own (even though as a reader you may sometimes shake your head at some of their decisions and wonder “what the hell were they thinking!”). This is girl power as it should be. The cat doubly likes this.

4. The Dust of 100 Dogs is Definitely Something Different.

A hard to categorize book, with unique characters, a compelling writing style (witty as well as gritty). All this makes of The Dust of 100 Dogs an unforgettable book by an ambitious and talented author who cannot be dismissed off hand.

The Bad

1. The Dust of 100 Dogs has too many ideas.

If you have so many ideas yet you only have about 300 pages to write them in, then it’s almost impossible to properly develop them all. Which leads the cat to #2…

2. The Dust of 100 Dogs shows plot holes the size of the Bermuda triangle.

Was there a reason why Saffron was so dismissive of her parents besides the fact she is only focused on going back to Jamaica? Was the cat the only reader who felt that Saffron’s life in America alone deserved an entire novel devoted to it? Saffron Adams, oddball in a family of societal outcasts (mother is a drunk, father suffers from depression, brother is a junk…) . Hmm, I guess we did get that novel, though…it’s called Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Ok, now that part makes sense. But still, what about Emer’s uncle? Or the fact that Fred Livingston is only introduced on p. 134 of the novel, yet plays a pivotal role in it? This definitely leads the cat to #3…

3. The Dust of 100 Dogs definitely needed more editing.

This book shows the major mistake of debut novels: trying too hard, shoving it all in. When all the elements of brilliance are laid out in front of you, it’s very hard to just edit out. As the author, you often just stand too close to your own material, but sometimes you should have the guts to say no to an ostensibly brilliant idea.  And that is exactly what a good editor should help you with and maybe Amy King just didn’t have the right editor yet to point her in the right direction. Luckily for us, her talent and ambition was recognized and even more lucky for us readers: she did find that focus with her next book!

All in all, the good definitely outweighs the bad. This book – and its author – shows creativity, defies easy categorization, and is definitely not ‘standard’. Everybody Sees the Ants, A.S. King’s third novel comes out in October. Her debut novel had (maybe too many) sparks of brilliance, Vera Dietz showed focus and freshness. That cat cannot wait to see if this next book will have the same edge and show more of that witty brilliance!



One response

7 09 2014

Hi i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i read this
post i thought i could also make comment due to this good piece of writing.

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