Thursday, May 8, 2014

book review: The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne

Update: The Dogs of Littlefield was published January 12, 2016 in the U.S. 
I've reposted my review here.

The backstory: The Dogs of Littlefield is on the longlist for this year's Baileys Prize. Suzanne Berne won the Orange Prize in 1999 for her first novel, A Crime in the Neighborhood (my review.)

The basics: Set in the idyllic (fictional) town of Littlefield, Massachusetts, famous for its place on the Ten Best Places to Live in America list, as well as its disproportionately high number of psychotherapists, The Dogs of Littlefield explores the characters of this town through their own eyes and through the eyes of Dr. Clarice Watkins, a cultural anthropologist spending a year in Littlefield as a visiting scholar. Soon after she arrives, dogs start getting poisoned, and the paranoia and repercussions of these events ripple throughout Littlefield.

My thoughts: When the Baileys Prize longlist was first announced, the title I was most surprised to see was The Dogs of Littlefield. How, I marveled, did I not know Suzanne Berne had a new novel out? It turns out because it not only isn't yet published in the U.S., there is no forthcoming U.S. publication date (particularly annoying because she's an American author, but British publishing wins again.)

I like my suburban fiction combined with a healthy dose of satire, and The Dogs of Littlefield is full of satire. I frequently laughed as I read, but this novel's humor is all relative--these jokes don't resonate out of context. Berne achieves the delicate balance of commenting on suburban life without doing so at the expense of the characters. The world is so well built I easily pictured real people, even as the characters acted in satirical caricature.

Favorite passage: "She was trying, he realized with a stab of grief, to be interesting."

The verdict: While the mystery of what is happening to the dogs (and who is hurting them) is a central theme to the narrative, it's only as compelling as everything else that's happening in the novel. The characters are the core of this novel, and they are the reason I so enjoyed it. May a U.S. publisher pick up this novel soon so Berne fans on this side of the world may enjoy it.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: December 5, 2013 (UK--no scheduled U.S. publication yet)
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Dogs of Littlefield from the Book Depository or Amazon (no U.S. Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Suzanne Berne's website.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

2 comments:

  1. I love me some good suburban fiction. Such a shame that it won't be published in the US anytime soon. I really don't understand how that works.

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    1. I fear it's sales related. Winning the Orange Prize probably bumped her sales more in the UK--and there is one fabulously snarky line in this novel when a novelist character bemoans his poverty even though his first novel won a prize.

      But this is the second book by an American author I love that's been published in the UK and not the US this year. Ugh.

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