Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis

Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis is one of my all time favorite books. This is my third or fourth time through the novel, I can’t remember which. By this time I could probably tell the story almost as well as Ms. Bakis does but I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book again none-the-less.

Lives of the Monster Dogs is the story of a group of elegantly dressed talking dogs that appear in Manhattan after rebelling against their human creators and escaping slavery in a remote northern Canadian wilderness. The dogs take the city by storm, becoming celebrities New Yorkers enjoy even if they do not completely believe the dogs are real. The story of the monster dogs is revealed through their interviews and friendship with a young reporter Cleo Pira, the papers and memoirs of several of the dogs, and through an opera written by one of the dogs.

This layering of the narrative helps bring the story to life by concealing much of the actual detail about the dogs. Because so much about the dogs remains unknown, the reader does not have to worry about how unlikely they are and can instead be swept up in their story. Their story: it is a terrible thing to be a dog and to know it. How can they interact as humans in a human society? What is their place in the world once they rebel against their masters who spent generations creating them?

In past readings I found the book to break down in its final chapters but I did not feel that way this time. The creators of the dogs were able to lengthen their lifespan but could not foresee the sickness that would eventual drive so many of the the dogs into madness. The dogs, once free from their creators, can live as they choose, however they cannot reproduce a new generation of monster dogs since the records of how to do so were destroyed in the rebellion. Their story, and most of their lives, end in a weeks long party held in their New York mansion/castle. Previously, I found this sequence to be directionless meandering but this time I found it quite haunting. I guess I know these dogs so well after so many reads that their demise produces a much greater since of loss.

I first ran this review in 2008 on my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B.  In the years since it first ran that page has received only three views.  I fear that I remain the lone voice crying out in the wilderness, singing praises of Lives of the Monster Dogs. But sing I shall though I stand alone.  This is a terrific book, that should have all the readers The Sparrow did.   I don’t understand why it doesn’t.

9 thoughts on “Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis

    1. They are dogs. But their human owners bred them and “modified” them so that they can stand on two legs, speak human speech and think as well as a human. All this basically makes them monsters in the classic Mary Shelly sense of the word.

      It’s a wonderful book. Please read it.

  1. I read it back when it came out. There was a bit of buzz about the first time novelist and we read it in the book club I was in at the time. Fun book. I should look to see if she’s done anything else…

    1. I keep hoping for another book. But there are a lot of writers who just write one book, one darn good book, and nothing else. They typically do not stay in print past their lives. Emily Bronte is really one of the very few exceptions.

  2. I agree with you James. I read about the Monster Dogs when Kirstan Bakis’s book first came out in1998. I love its attention to the uncanny otherness of the dogs, and the importance of writing about their plight. Bakis invents not just another species, but a species in transition. Its so much more connected to our time now than it was when it came out in I’m going to talk about the book in my next blog:

  3. I’m glad you’ve had some comments on this page supporting your admiration for Lives of the Monster Dogs…because my contribution will not help you at all. I read it way back, a few years after it came out, on the recommendation of a group of bookcrossers who were raving about it. There were lots of things I liked about it – including Bakis’ writing style which subtlety sweeps you into some really quite troubling issues without you noticing. And the premise is superb one. But for me this was the real let down of the novel – a great premise wasted. There was so much more to be explored, and the ending I thought just awful and ill-fitted with the rest of the novel. I felt let down after having enjoyed some much of the build up.

    BTW – it did garner some recognition when it was published – a handful of awards & nominations.

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