The Dogs…Barking by Jan Notzon


Growing up on the Mexican border, Jason struggles from his earliest years with a hard, and often painful existence. His whole life he suffers from an incurable longing -some intangible pain and empty loneliness that keeps him on the outside looking in at a world of happiness that he can see, but never seem to achieve. The one thing he wants most out of life- acceptance and approval from his siblings- he knows he will never receive, as he suffers abuse from their hands, as well as the hands of Brother Demian, an instructor at the Catholic school Jason attends.

As the years go by, Jason struggles to make sense of his life. He travels to New York to pursue his dreams of becoming an actor, leaving behind the girl of his dreams in the hopes that one day he will return successful and worthy of her love. But he soon realizes the world is a hostile place, and the dogs of his past have returned to haunt him yet again- and Jason wonders if he will ever find the sense of belonging that he so desperately craves.

This book was very uncomfortable for me to read, as it picked a lot of emotional scabs. Apparently Jason and I carry a lot of the same baggage. If only there had been some sort of resolution to the story- I think this would have been one of the better books I’ve read in quite a while. Typically I have a hard time with books that explore the darker side of life, and the pain and abuse that people often receive. However, sometimes these types of stories can be cleansing, offering up a redeeming ending that reassures us that all is not lost, that we can still trust in the world and believe that life can be beautiful. Honestly, those are the types of books that stay with me the longest (Tiny Sun Birds, Far Away is an excellent example), and have the most meaning- because they are so real and relevant. Unfortunately this is not such a book.

About a third of the way through, the story was about to resolve itself beautifully -but the author threw a wrench in the works and created an ending that was entirely anticlimactic and just felt wrong. (Why, why, why, Notzon?) After meeting the mysterious man on the train, all of the fragmented pieces in Jason’s life suddenly fit together- he felt it change (and I felt it too!). He could have been happy – should have been, anyway –  and all that I am left feeling after reading this book is frustrated.

Rating: 3 stars

I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.





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