If it weren’t for the writing, I might have enjoyed Flawed Dogs The Novel by Berkeley Breathed. Its message, like that of Breathed’s picture book, is one everyone should read. But where the picture book conveys this message through cute illustrations and whimsical verse, the novel warps this message through bitter heroes, violent storyline, and a writing style that is sometimes painful to read.
Parts of the plot work. Sam the Lion, a dachshund featured in the picture book, escapes from a show dog owner. He jumps into the car of Heidy, a young girl also featured in the picture book. In the full-length novel, she’s headed to live with her uncle because she has recently lost her parents in a hot air balloon accident while they searched for a champion Tibetan yak nibbler hound. Now Heidy hates dogs. At least, she hated them until she meets Sam, who dares to bestow on her a doggy kiss. The two bond, but their happiness is interrupted by her uncle’s poodle, Cassius, who resents not being center of attention. When it turns out Sam is also valuable due to a unique “duuglitz tuft,” Cassius plots Sam’s downfall. At this point, the plot works less well, because how Sam eventually exacts revenge is rather preposterous.
I can forgive an outlandish plot, if there is enough suspense in it to make me still want to know the outcome. Yes, I might develop that bad after taste one feels after eating artificial icing, but the treat itself will still be pleasant. However, I cannot so easily overlook a book’s style. At times, I felt as if reading the work of a student who has discovered adjectives: “… pulses of hot mist shot into the frigid air from a gaping pink throat.” Other times, I felt as if caught in a frenzied madcap movie that doesn’t believe in quiet moments: “Beachball explosions of fuzzy air.” It’s unfortunate that the style is so off-putting because Breathed’s heart in the right place. As in his picture book, he has an incredible message to share: Dogs need love.
Unfortunately, the negative portrayal of the supporting characters hurts this theme. In his picture book, we see only the rejected dogs and the bad owners are those who through ignorance reject their dogs for trivial reasons. In his novel, almost every character besides Sam and Heidy, are awful. Dog show people are portrayed as wealthy, fur-wearing, and heartless; it is inconceivable that they can love their pets. Or so Breathed would have us believe. Actually, the humans in general come off as unpleasant. Even the dogs receive a raw deal from the author unless they come from a pound. According to Breathed, it’s impossible that dogs can be both beautified and nice.
I’m not even sure how much I like the book’s heroes. Heidy essentially steals Sam from his rightful owner, because the owner seems to care more about his looks than his heart. Sam is no longer the unloved but adorable dog of the picture book, but a revenge-seeking dachshund. I felt betrayed, the way children do when they realize that their perfect parents are flawed. There’s that word: “flawed”. In the picture book, the dogs’ flaws come across as cute annoyances. In the novel, Sam’s character flaws overshadow his physical flaws. For example, Sam not only seeks revenge on Cassius but also on dogs who have done nothing except to be part of a show. The novel leaves me cynical, defensive, and resentful. Surely, this is not what Breathed intended.
Ever since the release of Flawed Dogs The Novel hit the headlines, I have watched for it to become available locally. For this reason, I was disappointed with how much I dislike it. I had hoped to love it, buy it, and recommend it to all of you. Alas, I will have to content myself with rereading Berkeley Breathed’s picture book about shelter dogs. I suggest you do too.
My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.
How would you rate this book?