Have you ever wondered, “Could this really be happening” when you’re in a strange situation?
Chances are you’ll have the same thought while reading “Dogwalker” by Arthur Bradford. This short story collection starts with seemingly mundane topics about roommates and living situations and slowly spirals into a series of tales that push the limits of reality and even dip into surrealist narratives, despite revolving around one simple protagonist: a dog walker.
But don’t drop this book just because it sounds strange. The very first pages will leave you in belly-aching laughs, maybe even attracting a couple of stares and raised eyebrows from people around you. In addition to all the hilarity and quirks, Bradford combines simple storytelling with complex narratives, which is not only enjoyable to read, but is also ideal for aspiring writers to annotate and imitate.
Here are some other aspects of “Dogwalker” that put this unique collection onto the “must-read” list for any reader.
Any college student living on campus or young person looking to afford rent knows the reality of crazy roommates, and so does Bradford in his tales of the “Dogwalker.”
In fact, you might think that outrageous tales of roommates are the true subject matters of the collection.
Bradford introduces his book with the unnamed protagonist describing various roommates he has experienced, such as Thurber, a man who hates plants and throws any visible potted greens onto the ground immediately upon observing them; Catface, (you guessed it) a man with a disturbingly cat-like face; and Bill, who is that roommate who seems like he could be a lunatic, but who you keep trusting anyway because you just aren’t sure and don’t want to risk offending him.
Rather than despising these roommates that make his life harder, the narrator highlights the good and the bad, the difficulties and the pay-off for dealing with these larger-than-life characters.
This resulting complexity keeps readers hooked because right when you’re prepared to write-off a character, they redeem themselves, and as soon as you begin to root for another character, they surprise you with another secret or crazy habit. Isn’t this complicated narrative really what life with a roommate feels like?
Bradford has a knack for describing the charming faults and quirks of others, but he also doesn’t shy away from revealing the protagonist’s own mistakes and uncertainties. Despite the outrageous nature of some of these stories, this honest attitude reels in all the crazy and reminds audiences that each person has a part in his or her crazy situation, even when they feel like the only “normal” person.
Animals Help, but Also Complicate Things
In the face of loneliness, many people turn to adopting a new pet to have a companion and stay busy.
Bradford’s nameless protagonist also turns to pets when his various roommates abandon him, but much like the rest of the collection, these pets are not exactly “normal,” usually because they end up being dogs with only three legs, mutant puppies or part-dog, part-human creatures. Yes, you read that right.
So, instead of bringing the protagonist relief, oftentimes these pets drag him further and further into the throes of fantastic events. For example, the protagonist has to babysit a three-legged dog that he ends up losing at the park. He keeps looking for him, concerned that the owner will return and he won’t have her dog, and, in the process, finds another person looking for her pet.
Assuming that this woman is looking for a small dog, the protagonist assumes that a large snake with a swollen belly that he happens upon in the park ate the dog, and he kills the snake heroically. The snake, however, was the woman’s pet: A pregnant snake. Days after this embarrassment, the three-legged dog returns but the owner never does, so he keeps the dog.
Each of the stories present the protagonist with bizarre situations, but he always takes these difficulties in stride and recounts them to the audience without too much alarm or disdain.
The comedic tone that results from his lack of alarm creates a charming effect, albeit sometimes questionable for the reader, that nevertheless wins readers over to the protagonist’s cause and his battle against the peculiar events that he seems to attract. If you feel like a person who always attracts weird situations or people, this protagonist will resonate with you.
Stranger Than Fiction
Bradford’s stories become increasingly surreal as the collection progresses, but the protagonist’s attitude toward these events does not waver. While I won’t divulge the content of this progression and spoil the stories for you, the interesting point is that the protagonist simply continues to tell his story without revealing whether it is reality, a dream or the result of some substance-induced fantasy.
The attitude he maintains toward his situations can be misunderstood by some audiences, as some reviewers of the book have criticized Bradford’s writing saying that the stories don’t make sense or relate to a higher meaning that they can ascertain.
However, critics of “Dogwalker” misunderstand the function of the simplicity of tone paired with outlandish ideas in the collection. The result creates a refreshing break from long, tiring novels packed with flowery and dense language that spin tales of a great moral or lesson to be taught.
This collection is meant to complement these works and gains its humor by going against the status quo of literature. The stories are written in an unassuming tone and do not force the reader to one given “lesson” at the end.
In many ways this lack of a moral is what makes the stories more believable, despite their crazy premises. The stories imitate the crazy events that can happen to any individual that may not always lead him or her to a grand, life-changing enlightenment.
Instead, some stories are just entertaining purely for what they are, or they might have many meanings and ideas that arise from various details paired together over time. Bradford’s seemingly straightforwardness of writing actually creates a very complex piece of work that comments on the absurd events that can happen in reality, which is why this collection also serves as a great exemplar for aspiring writers.
In short, this collection will certainly lead you to question whether these stories could “really” happen or not, but this collection will, more importantly, lead you to recognize the value of the absurd events of your own life that you might write off as unimportant. It may be weird, but it could happen to you, and “Dogwalker” shows just how much humor we can find in these bizarre situations.