André Alexis was born in Trinidad and grew up in Canada. His debut novel, Childhood, won the Books in Canada First Novel Award and was a co-winner of the Trillium Award.
* CONTAINS SPOILERS
What happens when two Gods decide to bestow on a group of fifteen dogs “human intelligence” to see if they will die happy as a result? From the first puzzling grasp of empathy for a fellow creature to fully coming to love a human, the dogs find themselves in the precarious position of managing their sudden self-awareness and reconciling a desperate need to remain canine. For some dogs, the ability to think and communicate is liberating, while for others power and the pack mentality is the priority and they will enforce the rules without mercy.
Fifteen Dogs is devastating in its exploration of how human consciousness, and the independence and use of language that evolves as a consequence, can create an existential crisis for creatures used to hierarchy and physical forms of communication. Through their eyes, readers experience the deep suffering and confusion the dogs experience coming to terms with their morality, the kind of inner struggle humans have endured for eons. You can’t help thinking long and hard about what it means to be human, as much as what it means to be a dog, long after finishing the book.
As you may have already heard, Fifteen Dogs is violent and while I handled the violence better than I thought I would, I was blown away by how premeditated and malicious the attacks were against targeted dogs just because their acceptance of the new way threatened or irritated the others. It made me sad.
Author André Alexis does more than anthropomorphize canines and give us talking (and even walking) pups. The dogs are a mirror reflecting the complexity of human nature and how language and communication is a bridge to understanding and loving one another. And thanks to Fifteen Dogs, I will probably never look at dogs the same way again, as he gently chides us about the condescending manner humans make dogs perform tricks or treat them like furry children. I’ll be chewing on that bone for some time (no pun intended).