The Lost Dog Review
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The dog is white and lean, and it has no name. Lost in the Australian bush for days on end, the dog’s owner, Tom Loxley, conducts a sporadic search from his country retreat, in between visits to his southern city home.

But Tom has a companion on these trips—his good friend, Nelly Zhang, an artist who lives in the same city, in a colony called The Preserve. It’s at Nelly’s rustic country house that Tom, a writer and college professor, is finishing his latest book. When the dog pulls a long leash from Tom’s hand and chases a wallaby out of sight, the long and painful search begins.

There are two mysteries in The Lost Dog. One is the whereabouts of the missing dog. The other is Nelly Zhang. Tom is attracted to her, even though she says little and doesn’t encourage closeness. Nelly once had a husband who went missing and never returned. Was she somehow involved? Who is the real father of her teenaged son? And why does she spend so much time with the gallery owner who was also the best friend of her missing husband? But she’s happy to help with Tom’s search, as hopeless as it seems.

Complicating Tom’s life is his elderly Indian mother, Iris, infirm and deathly afraid of falling. She needs to be in a nursing home, but she refuses to even think about it.

The book I read before this one was a tightly packed, just-the-facts-please police procedural that had me guffawing loudly every three pages. The Lost Dog is the polar opposite—more literary, serious, expansive. I laughed exactly twice. You get the facts eventually, but you also get flashback after flashback—the novel is filled with them. The story takes place in 2001, but there’s even a mega-flashback to World War II, when Tom’s English father met Iris in India. That part alone could have been a separate book.

The missing dog, thankfully, keeps bringing the narrative back to the present. Even so, large chunks consist of clever word paintings and poetic riddles. The style is dreamy and obtuse; often, I would read two or three paragraphs without any idea of what I’d just read or what it meant. Sometimes, I went back to give it another try.

I’m no English major, so I knew fairly soon that The Lost Dog wasn’t for me. I liked it enough to finish it (will they ever find that dog?)—but without the kind of enjoyment I anticipated. I’d recommend it to people who often read literary novels, who like the challenges of ephemeral language, and who don’t mind deferring their gratification. A good read, but a hard one.

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