Fifteen Dogs

by André Alexis

Fifteen Dogs CoverI often go on about the best stories being the ones to elicit the strongest emotions, and probably the clearest indicator that an author has succeeded at this is by making me cry. Alexis’ novel is a unique case where this is concerned, not simply because he made me cry, but because I can’t recall another story that brought forth tears quite so soon, not twenty pages in, or one that had me so consistently on the verge of tears. Therefore, it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that Fifteen Dogs is something special.

The titular fifteen dogs awaken one night––the night they were all spending at a Toronto veterinary clinic––to discover that they have become thoughtful and aware, not knowing that they were granted human consciousness merely because the gods were betting. The bet, between Apollo and Hermes, was whether this enlightenment would bring happiness or sadness to the animals, determined at their deaths. I honestly expected Fifteen Dogs to be an interesting look at the influence of the new intelligence on the dogs, the plot encompassing the fracturing of canine society promised in the synopsis, but that’s really just the jumping-off point. With everything that happened by the end of the first chapter seeming enough to constitute the plot of an entire book, I, naturally, was intrigued to see where the author would go with this, and he doesn’t disappoint. Alexis’ canine vantage point allows him to explore the human condition in a nuanced fashion, making his characters deal with their massive change in contrasting ways, but never making anyone out to be “right” or “wrong.” We see that close relationships can build unbreakable bonds and uninhibited joy, but the dependence that accompanies them can ruin someone in a partner’s absence. Idealism is portrayed romantically, but also as sad, evil, or even pointless. Selfishness comes across as useful for survival, but also hurtful to oneself and others. Social order keeps everyone functioning cohesively, but also alienates, or worse. To even broach such subjects in such a thoughtful fashion would already make Fifteen Dogs superb, but to have taken the time to tell it through the dogs, to consider what would matter to them before the change and how they would adapt to the new ways they experienced the world around them, makes this story something else.

To attempt to describe Fifteen Dogs in a single word would do it a disservice, because it’s many things: it’s thoughtful, insightful, articulate, unique. However, as I read, above and beyond anything else, one word stuck out in my mind: striking. And “striking” is exactly what Alexis’ masterpiece is: strong, noticeable, impactful.