Wild Dogs, by Helen Humphreys. Book report #20 (2018)

Wild Dogs, by Helen Humphreys. Pub 2004

I’ve read almost all of Helen Humphreys’ novels, but strangely not this one. Strange because this one was specifically recommended to me.

It was in the early fall of 2008 (I think). I was visiting my friends Joan and Pete on the Sunshine Coast for the Pender Harbour Jazz and Blues Festival. We were at a local pub in the afternoon, having a late lunch before heading out to the big evening concert and dance. At some point, we started chatting with the couple at the table next to us, and soon we were all talking and laughing and enjoying the afternoon.

Ian and Tracey were from Tsawwassen and were visiting not for the music festival but just to be away for the weekend. Tracey is a writer, and so our conversation quickly turned to books, writing, novels, etc. Joan and I asked her for some book recommendations, and she immediately burst out with: Raw Shark Texts, by someone she couldn’t remember (it was Stephen Hall), and Wild Dogs by Helen Humphreys. I remember typing the info into my phone (at that time, my beloved Blackberry) and promising to look for them.

The afternoon drifted into evening, and suddenly we realized we needed to go so we could get to the next event. In a flurry of goodbyes, we dashed from the pub to the car to the concert. We talked in the car about what I nice afternoon we’d had with Ian and Tracey, and how we should have gotten their contact info to catch up with them again. Oh well.

To our huge embarrassment, they had reason to contact us. Turns out, in our haste to leave the pub, we neglected to pay for our lunches and beers, and because they had ended up essentially sitting with us for the afternoon, Ian and Tracey had to pay for us. Thankfully, Pender Harbour is a small enough community that someone else there knew who Joan was (a local teacher at that time) and so they were able to track down her phone number and leave a message about the bill.

After getting over our embarrassment, we pieced together what had happened. After all the buying of tickets and other meals over the weekend, for this lunch it was Pete’s turn to pay. When he got up to go to the washroom before we left, both Joan and I thought he’d also paid the bill at the bar. When he came back and we all got up to leave, he assumed that we’d taken care of the bill while he was away. We didn’t realize that we’d dined-and-dashed until the message from Ian the following morning.

I eventually got around to Wild Dogs this year. I don’t know why I didn’t read this book first; instead I read Humphreys’ The Lost Garden first, and then made my way through all her other books. I bought my copy of Wild Dogs at a used book store, likely about five years ago. I remember trying to start it a few times, and not finding it engaging. But this year, I persisted. And it was worth it.

The story considers five people and their dogs. The dogs have all been released into the wild, on the outskirts of a small farming community somewhere in (I think) Ontario. The five people meet when they start gathering each evening at the edge of the woods where the dogs now live, calling out to them and hoping they’ll return home. The novel tells each story one by one, so there are several voices and perspectives throughout. We read about mostly tragedy – lost love, troubled home life, abandonment, mental illness, a struggling community – but there are glimpses of beauty and hope as well.

Humphreys is also a poet, and that is clear in many passages of the book, where description is lyrical and vague and where several threads of the story are left unravelled at the end. But the interweaving stories and varied voices of the characters are very well done. The female characters have more colour and complexity than the male ones, and definitely more sympathy from the author, which is likely my only criticism of the book. This is a common characteristic of Humphreys’ stories, so not unexpected and certainly not a deal-breaker when the story itself and the writing are so well done.

1. A book with a murder.

8. A book written by a woman.

With this book, I complete 2018 but not the reading challenge – I only did 20 of the 28 books this year. The nemesis was my brilliant September vacation, which did not have much time or desire for reading. Hopefully 2019 will have time for both vacations and reading!

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