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Red Dog, Red Dog

by Patrick Lane

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literary, small town & rural, family life
list price: $22.00
also available: Hardcover
category: Fiction
published: 2009
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  • Short-listed, BC Book Prize's Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
  • , Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
  • Short-listed, Amazon Canada First Novel Award
  • , Scotiabank Giller Prize
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A National Bestseller and a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year
One of the most powerful, gripping works of fiction to come out of Canada, Red Dog, Red Dog is Patrick Lane’s virtuoso debut novel.

An epic novel of unrequited dreams and forestalled lives, Red Dog, Red Dog is set in the mid-1950s, in a small town in the interior of B.C. in the unnamed Okanagan Valley. The novel focuses on the Stark family, centring on brothers Eddy and Tom, who are bound together by family loyalty and inarticulate love.

There is Tom and Eddy’s father, Elmer Stark, a violent man with a troubled past, and Lillian, who married as a girl to escape life on the farm with her widowed mother, and now retreats into her own isolation. Unrepentant, bitter, older brother Eddy speeds freely along, his desperate path fuelled by drugs and weapons, while Tom, a loner, attempts to conceal their secrets and protect what remains of the family. Eventually, an unspeakable crime causes him to come face to face with something traumatic that has lain hidden in him since he was a boy. Narrated in part by one of the dead infant daughters Elmer has buried, the story unfolds gradually, as it weaves in family stories that reach back to the depression days and the harsh life of settlers in the 1880s West.

This is also a novel about a small community of people, about complicated loyalties, about betrayals and shifts of power. Filled with moments of harrowing violence and breathtaking description, of shattering truths and deep humanity, Red Dog, Red Dog is about the legacies of the past and the possibilities of forgiveness and redemption. With this astonishing novel, one of Canada’s best poets propels himself into the forefront of our finest novelists.

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It was stone country where a bone cage could last a thousand years under the moon, its ribs a perch for Vesper sparrows, its skull a home for Harvest mice. The hills rose parched from the still lakes, the mountains beyond them faded to a mauve so pale they seemed stones under ice. Sage brush and bitterroot weathered the September night. In the desiccated grass of a vacant lot, a rattle snake followed in the tracks of a Kangaroo mouse, a Fiery Searcher beetle clambered over the dried body of a dead Wood rat in the dust, and a magpie slept inside its wings on a branch of dying chokecherry, the berries hard as dog knots. Stars shone like sparks thrown from shattered quartz, Orion reeling in the southern sky and Mars sullen and red in the west.

In the heart of it was a valley leading nowhere out but north or south. North was going toward narrower cuts of rock, deeper winters, darker forests, and even more desolate towns that turned into villages, villages into clusters of trailers and isolated shacks in the trees, nothing beyond but bush that ran clear to the tundra. South was going toward the desert states where there was no place a man could get work unless he was Indian or wetback, someone willing to take cash wages half what anyone else might ask. The only way you could stay alive down in Washington or Idaho was to break your back in the onion fields and orchards, set chokers on a gypo logging show, or steal. East were mountains piled upon mountains, the Monashee giving over to the Selkirks and Purcells, and finally the Rockies and the Great Plains. To the west was a rolling plateau where nothing lived but moose, bear, and screaming, black- headed jays. At the edge of the plateau, the rolling forest rose up the Coast Range until it dwindled against the scree, and on the other side of the peaks and glaciers was the sea, something most people in the valley had only heard of, never seen, the Pacific with its waves rolling over the dead bodies of seals and salmon, eagles and gulls shrieking.

The town squatted in a bowl beneath desert hills, its scattered lights odd fires stared at from up on the Commonage where a rattlesnake could be seen lifting its wedge head from the heat- trail of a white- footed mouse and staring down at the three lakes, Swan in the north, Kalamalka to the south, and Okanagan in the west, the Bluebush hills and mountains hanging above them in a pall. Against the sky were rocky outcrops with their swales of rotted snow where nothing grew but lichens, pale explosions that held fast to the rough knuckles of granite as the long winds came steady out of the north. In the valley confluence where the lakes met were the dusty streets and avenues of the town shrouded by tired elms and maples. What the snake saw only it could know.

It was the hour after moonset, dawn close by. The darkness held hard on the Monashee Mountains. Eddy walked thin down a back alley halfway up the east hillside, his eyes blinkered, their blue faded to a mottled white, the colour of the junk in his veins. Ankle- deep yellow clay lifted and swam around his boots. Silica whirlwinds, they shivered behind his heels as they settled back into soft pools. He moved slowly between broken fences and sagging, fretful sheds. The open windows of houses gazed blind into backyards, sleepers heavy in narrow beds, sheets damp and crumpled at their feet. In the alley, wheat grass and cheat grass draped their seed heads over the shallow ruts. A single stem of spear grass brushed against Eddy’s pant leg and left two seeds caught in the wisps of cotton on his worn cuff. He waded on through dust, the seeds waiting for their moment to fall in what might be some giving dirt, some spot where life might find a place to hide in winter. The alley held the illusion of water, thin waves of powdered clay shot through with the dead leaves of grass and chicory.

A slender ghost, lean as a willow wand, Eddy flowed in the languid glow of the heroin he’d shot up a half-hour before. Sergeant Stanley’s German shepherd slept uneasy on its paws in the run next to the ashes of a burned- out shed. Eddy had set the shed on fire the week before. He’d watched the flames from his car on the hill above and imagined Stanley in the dark staring at the wild fire, raging.

Sergeant Stanley was nowhere around. Eddy knew he was likely taking his usual time with some frightened girl he’d picked up and squired out to the west side of the lake on some false, misleading threat or charge. Eddy had seen Stanley’s women. The cop took his due with all of them, each one owing him her body in unfair exchange for the cell she didn’t want to see, the father, friend, or husband she’d never tell. When he was a boy, he’d crouched behind a chokecherry bush up on the Commonage and seen Stanley with his pants open, a scared girl on her knees beside the police car, working for her life as she bruised her knees on rock shards in the clay.

The shed had been the first thing.

The dog would be the second.

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Contributor notes

Patrick Lane has received numerous awards for his writing, including the Governor General’s Award for Poetry. His acclaimed memoir, There Is a Season, won the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence and the inaugural British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-fiction. Lane lives near Victoria, B.C. Red Dog, Red Dog is his debut novel.

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Editorial Review

“Patrick Lane’s Red Dog, Red Dog is a tale of blood, loyalty and redemption. The novel centers on Eddy and Tom Stark, two brothers struggling with their hardscrabble inheritance in the Okanagan Valley. Theirs is a fiercely unforgiving world, and, for the reader, an unforgettable one. The strength of Lane’s perfectly cadenced prose may bring to mind Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy and, inevitably, The Bible. There is a deep wisdom in this book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.”
— Richard Bachman, A Different Drummer Books
“Lane’s exquisite craftsmanship is on display… particularly his unerring instinct for images that wound and enlighten in equal measure.”
Globe and Mail

“The violence and anger [are] matched only by the sublime radiance of the prose…. While the novel is of a time and place, its significance is universal.”
Victoria Times Colonist

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About the Author

Patrick Lane

Patrick Lane, considered by most writers and critics to be one of Canada's finest poets, was born in 1939 in Nelson, BC. He grew up in the in the Kootenay and Okanagan regions of the BC Interior, primarily in Vernon. He came to Vancouver and co-founded a small press, Very Stone House with bill bissett and Seymour Mayne. He then drifted extensively throughout North and South America. He has worked at a variety of jobs from labourer to industrial accountant, but much of his life has been spent as a poet, having produced twenty-four books of poetry to date. He is also the father of five children and grandfather of nine. He has won nearly every literary prize in Canada, from the Governor General's Award to the Canadian Authors Association Award to the Dorothy Livesay Prize. In 2014, he became an Officer of the Order of Canada, an honour that recognizes a lifetime of achievement and merit of a high degree. His poetry and fiction have been widely anthologized and have been translated into many languages. Lane now makes his home in Victoria, BC, with his companion, the poet Lorna Crozier.

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