|2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest Finalist: General Fiction|
Morgan has a degree in Russian language and literature. In his words, he has held :a thousand jobs, none of them particularly noteworthy," but says he has always written because it tells him things he "wouldn’t otherwise know." His novel features Gustav Arturo Deal, a man who is mostly confined to a wheelchair and is assumed by most to be afflicted with severe brain damage. Deal lives in a monstrosity of a home with a man and a woman who claim to be his parents, and the cast of characters they employ: an Italian mechanic, a French chef, Mexican grounds laborers and a waitress who occasionally seems to be Argentinian.
Read an excerpt from Dog Christ
You get your bearings slowly in Dog Christ. Your information comes to you via the narrator and hero, Gustav Arturo Deal, a man suffering from a nameless syndrome that keeps him largely confined to a wheelchair and impairs his speech to the point where he can say only "Yes" and "No." (Though in his head, where only we can hear him, he is uncommonly eloquent--he has a verbal facility reminiscent of Humbert Humbert’s in Lolita.) Gustav lives in a mansion, or rather, a shack on the grounds of a mansion, with a trained dog for a companion. He is waited upon by a curious international collection of servants, including a French chef, and an Italian mechanic with a Super Mario accent. Gustav’s parents are wealthy: his father, Otto, is a monomaniacal Ayn Randian self-made business titan.
Gustav wants for very little--but he wants very little: he is "an observer by nature and disposition, though not a curious observer of people particularly; people are too screwed up." All is not well in the house of Deal: Gustav notices signs of a slow-rolling conspiracy in the mansion--"its ferocious occupants are loosed with fear and there’s no telling what cranky unkindnesses they are scheming to unleash." But the conspiracy develops slowly, and the stakes are unclear, all of which leaves the reader struggling to stay engaged. Gustav is a curious specimen: he has the naïve, sheltered quality of the little boy in Emma Donoghue’s Room, and the alienated emotional distance of the hero of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but the pathos of those figures never quite develops around him. We’re trapped in his head the way he’s trapped in his wheelchair: his narrow emotional range is confining. His eloquence gives Dog Christ an eerie clarity, and his existential musings on the point of life have a certain gloomy gravity, but his coldness, and the plot’s sketchiness, ultimately makes the book a somewhat dreary read, even at its short length.
|See all of Lev Grossman's reviews|
This short and chaotic novel’s compelling--and wildly unreliable--narrator is Gustav Arturo Deal, a wheelchair-bound, quasi-mute young man who everyone around believes is mentally damaged. However, even though Gustav lives in a shack ("guest house") outside his parents’ stone mansion, and spends most of his days zooming around in his motorized chair (when not potting and repotting roses with his spoons), not only can he understand the people around him, but his internal narrative provides simple yet slyly wise analysis of his family and their hired help: Otto, his materialistic and sadistic father, who spends his time buying cars or yelling into the phone; Lilly, his surgically enhanced and weepy mother, who plans parties and sleeps with men other than her husband; the irritating and irritable French chef and his questionably foreign housekeeper girlfriend, who are clearly on the make; and Penzio, the Italian car mechanic, who seems to be the only person to take Gustav seriously--and who of course may not be who he says he is. There are wonderful scenes between Gustav and his new pet dog, Dog, and the characters are colorful. But in the end, Morgan seems to have sacrificed plot for style. Too bad, because spending time with Gustav was fun.
|See all of Marysue Rucci's reviews|
Gustav Arturo Deal suffers from unspecified "syndromes." Physically weak, easily tired, he is generally confined to a wheelchair. He has only simple needs, remembers little, professes a lack of understanding about "many things," and is almost entirely unable to communicate, except to automatically produce "Yes" or "No" responses to carefully worded questions.
He lives in a garden shack behind the large stone house belonging to a man and woman who tell him (although has his doubts) that they are his parents and their staff--their French chef and sometimes Argentinian "waitress" and--often--an Italian car mechanic who could be "vice president of talking" in a group for whom "talking is the chief preoccupation." Gustav is treated something like a household pet--indulged by some, barely tolerated by others--and is assured that he was "not born like this." He spends his days putting flowers into pots and being careful not to break his mother’s vases.
But while it’s largely locked away from the world, Gustav’s mind (and the novel’s quirkily formal voice) is sharp and discerning. He’s keenly observant, both of others--"She has the gait of a petulant autocrat"--and of himself--"I lack the concept of quantity which is a failure of faculty or the absence of need." And his limited perspective and understanding provide for stark and often hilarious renderings of the peccadilloes and absurdities--selfishness, self-indulgence, egotism, hypocrisy, callousness--of the people who surround him. At times, his stories contain elements of farce; others are wholly absurdist.
Gustav’s condition begins to deteriorate as tensions at home mount, and a modicum of effort is expended to create intrigue about what may have caused his mysterious affliction. As a piece of experimental fiction, Dog Christ succeeds in ways that I’ve described, but ultimately, given the dearth of either real narrative tension or plot, I suspect that it would be more effective as a long short story than as a short novel.
|See all of Jennifer Joel's reviews|