Commentary on The Dog by Joseph ONeill
At a time when many fiction writers, even those considered “literary”, have re-embraced the technique of using straight plot to tell a story, Joseph O’Neill dares to ignore that trend with the publication of his latest work. O’Neill, with The Dog, tends more to the deconstructive method of say, a Nabokov or a DeLillo, possibly even a Paul Auster. It is the sad tale of the narrator, a counselor-at-law (unnamed (or unnameable?) although he does use an alias (an ironic one at that) for his more illicit activities), who, after an ugly break-up with Jenn, his same-vocationed significant other, accepts a job offer from an old college chum, now one half of a Lebanese billionaire duo known as the Batros brothers, which requires relocation from his home base near New York City to the emirate of Dubai. Being an attorney, our narrator understandably has a lawyerly way of pleading his case. At times the prose reads like a legal brief; with lists, inventories, summaries, delineations, and so on. Literary style aside, O’Neill has written a cogent commentary on the hazards of our ever more globally connected, accessible, privacy-stripped society.
The Dog of the title pertains, at least on its face, to our nameless narrator, a beast-of-psycho-burden– if you will– carrying with him baggage for the ages. His estranged having relegated him to the “doghouse”, he becomes the obedient employee, a chess piece of sorts to a largely absent grand master, a fiduciary performing little tricks with signatory authority, his caché of disclaimer stamps and embossers within reach. In Dubai, he lives in a vast apartment complex called The Situation (evocative of reality television and its causes célebres), babysits (by that I mean employs as an intern) Alain, Sandro Batros’s undisciplined young son, visits prostitutes and has a pedicure all in one stop, takes up Scuba, and ponders the life and disappearance of the elusive Ted Wilson: a fellow American ex-pat, The Situation resident, and deep sea diver.
Joseph O’Neill peppers the reader with Twin Peaks mystery, dark humor, and a general sense of disturbing pathos for the state of humankind in the twenty-first century. He digresses prodigiously throughout and in so doing is not afraid to use the parentheses as the indicative device (I counted seven closed parentheses at one digression (which I believe was the record)). Dubai, with its tax haven status, is the ideal setting if one wishes to enhance the ever-widening gulf between the privileged class and their enabling support staff of outsourced labor. On another level, Dubai, aspires to become, for the dogs of this world, the ultimate retreat from those nagging home truths, but as our narrator discovers it only serves to highlight them. His fascination with the elusory Ted Wilson hints at his desire to disappear in one way or another. But in the searchable Google-goggled world we currently inhabit, that task may prove more painful to accomplish than one, prior to reading this novel at least, may imagine.