Monday, August 05, 2019

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

He is running, running running.

And it’s like no kind of running he’s ever done before. He’s the surge that burst the dam and he’s pouring down the hillslope.
This time, there’ no chance to sniff and scavenge and scoff. There are no steel bars to end his lap, no chain to jerk at the limit of its extension, no bellowing to trick and bully him back.

This time, he’s further than he’s ever seen before, past every marker along the horizon line, every hump and spork he learned by heart. He is running, running, running.

And there’s no course or current to deter him.

He is One Eye now.

He is on his way

Lucky for the dog, One Eye, that he is adopted by a man as lonely and abandoned as he is. Selected from a bunch of creatures MISTREATED, ABANDONED, ABUSED. When the kennel keeper grabs him by the scruff and leads him to the man. “You are leaning low, nearly dragging your body along the aground, as though carrying a great lump of fear.”

The dog is a terrier, and although the reader never discovers just where he came from or how he was abused, it is suggested that he went down a hole after a badger, losing his eye in the ensuing battle.  

The man is living in his father’s house and has no memory of a mother. His father is dead, but the son remains in the house, which he says is as close to a mother as he has ever known. He is 57, too old to start over and too young to give up. The village in which he lives sees him as ugly and retarded, and his father keeps him away from school and pretty much away from all of society, more or less embarrassed by his awkward, ugly son. 

But the man and dog carve out a life, and very soon, the man cannot imagine life without One Eye. He watches the dog amazed by his nose, amazed that he can be hypnotized by smell. “I wish I’d been born with your capacity for wonder.”

The story of their interdependence is a sad but lovely one. We learn that as a boy, with almost no help from his father, he learned to read. And then when in his forties, because the father is too crippled with gout to drive, he teaches the man how to drive. While he is frightened by most people, he loves to read; despite the villagers misconception, he is not retarded. 

This is a debut novel for Sara Baume, and she finds ingenious ways to have the dog’s voice ‘heard’ by the readers. He talks to the dog, and then tells us how the dog responds. He reads to the dog, and listens carefully for One Eye’s commentary. Turns out that One Eye has a moral take on the world as well as a rational one. Like Iris Murdoch, Baume allows the dog to speak, and the reader learns so much from the interchange between the two.

Unfortunately, just as many in the village see the man as menacing, they come to see the dog as a menace as well. Not entirely undeserved, since he viciously latches on to two other dogs, one small and terrified by the jaws of the terrier, and the other a handsome collie, with a rich owner,  who is bitten on the snout by One Eye. 

Knowing that animal control will soon come to his house and take the dog away, and unable to imagine going back to his utterly lonely life prior to One Eye, the two take off and travel the backroads and small villages of Ireland, living in the car or beside it, and surviving as they can from day to day and town to town.

Shortly before deciding that they need to run, the man takes stock of his perhaps rash decision to adopt the dog.
I should never have adopted you. You bring trouble and then just when I think trouble has passed, you bring trouble again. Caring for you is like keeping a nettle in a pretty porcelain flower pot, watering its roots and pruning its vicious needles no matter how cruelly it stings my skin, until I’m pink and puffy all over yet still worrying the old welts back to life. 

And now I think how I was my father’s nettle. His big lump of an embarrassing son...A son fit only to be kept indoors, away from people and from light. Where there’s nothing to sting but himself.
I know that most of what I have described seems just too sad, but in fact, there is much joy and loveliness in this insightful little novel.
I wonder have we grown to resemble one another, as we’re supposed to. On the outside, we are still as black and gnarled as nature made us. But on the inside, I fell different somehow. I feel animalized. Now there’s wildness inside me that kicked off with you.
Man rescues dog, and dog rescues man. This is a wonderful love story, and one that you will be glad you read.

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