by Will Shetterly
Tor, 1997, ISBN 0-312-85171-5
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
Recently, I said mainstream readers probably couldn't read A Deepness in the Sky; they'd have no way to get a handle on it. Dogland is a fantasy novel that, if they found it shelved in mainstream fiction and picked it up, they'd never suspect they'd read any of that weird genre stuff. The fantasy elements blend in seamles sly, and are sufficiently subtle that the book can be read without acknowledging their presence at all--and a mainstream reader who did notice them would probably call it "magic realism". Nevertheless, some of the most critical events in the story are simply different events, depending on whether you read the fantasy elements as being there or not.
The narrator is grown-up Christopher Nix, recounting his family's move from New Orleans to Florida when he was four years old, and their early years there, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They make the move because his father has decided to open a tourist attraction, a sort of canine zoo, with one or two specimens of every breed of dog. The black man they hire as cook for the Dogland restaurant talks about helping to build the Egyptian pyramids; one of the neighboring businesses is The Fountain of Youth Motel, owned by Mrs. DeLyon, with a fountain whose water does seem to have remarkably healthful effects. A less well-liked neighbor is Nick Lumiere, whom no one trusts for no reason anyone is ever able to state clearly. If one takes the odd neighbors and the sometimes even odder visitors as merely eccentric, this is a richly described story of a boy's growing up at a time when major social changes were taking place in America. If one takes the neighbors and the visitors, and what they say and what Christopher sees (or merely thinks he sees?) more seriously, then Latchahie County becomes a strange and wonderful place, and Christopher has some amazing adventures.
But nothing in the text of book requires the reader to prefer one of these readings over the other.