The Atlantic

When Talking Canines Took Over New York

Twenty years after it was first published, Kirsten Bakis’s extraordinary novel Lives of the Monster Dogs still has a lot to say about the entwined destinies of animals and humans.
Source: FSG

When Kirsten Bakis’s novel Lives of the Monster Dogs was first published in 1997, it was translated into multiple languages, adapted for the stage, and included on the New York Times Notable Books list. Among other honors, it became a finalist for the Orange Prize for Fiction and won the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel. In a year dominated by juggernaut explorations of the human condition—like Don DeLillo’s Underworld—the novel’s level of success seemed destined to accord it cult status. But 20 years later, as it gets a much-deserved reissue, Lives of the Monster Dogs feels undeniably like a classic.

What makes all this perhaps surprising is that the novel is so strange, if beautifully so, imagining as it does a breed of humanistic dogs, the result of brutal experiments, that walk and talk and attempt to coexist with polite society in New York City. The novel comes to us in the form of journal entries, excerpts from an opera, and other “real” evidence, framed and explained by Cleo Pira, a woman assigned to write a magazine article about the dogs. Her explorations delve into the past, including the hideous experiments of the 19th-century Prussian surgeon who created the monster dogs. The horror and unease in the narrative derives in part from its verisimilitude in conveying the grotesque and in part the blurring of the animal and

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