A warm, dark novel of family, distance & time from the author of the much-loved, highly-praised, prize-nominated SISTER CRAZY. An English novel of real brilliance. Feed My Dear Dogs is a book with its telescopic gaze part-turned toward outer space, and like the sky at night it dazzles with a myriad points of light, but the longer you look at it the more you become all too aware of the defining darkness between. It has a strange,compelling narrative sensibility that begins in outright observational comedy and slides into ever darker regions, while never losing its sharp tongue and wicked wit. Jem Weiss (her again!), the middle child of five, inhabits a family too fantastic to leave lightly, and experiences childhood more acutely, more joyously and more entertainingly than most. The five Weiss siblings crackle with intelligence, camaraderie, competitiveness and individuality; they have their own running gags, jargon, skits and power struggles; and they share a bearlike but adored father and an unflappable and omnicompetent mother. Jem's life hums with Shackleton and supernovas, boxing and cowboys and cars, binocular doughnuts, naval underwear, satchels and knights, telescopes and travel: and at the center of this galaxy of delights is her shining family. And as Jem runs all her childhood memories through her fingers, she entrances the reader with her sharp observations, casual wisdom and tender wit. However, there's always something else looming, and then and again it sneaks up, like her mother out of time in a red dress, with some pressing tidings to impart -- a child's terror at the prospect of moving on, growing up, leaving Home.
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Emma Richler was born in London and grew up in London and Montreal. She trained as an actress in New York City and worked in the UK in theatre, film, television and on BBC Radio for ten years. She lives in North London.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Jude always said a kid is supposed to get acclimatised to the great world and society and so on, and just as soon as he can bash around on his own two pins, but the feeling of dread and disquiet I experienced on leaving home in my earliest days was justified for me again and again on journeys out, beginning with the time Zachariah Levinthal bashed me on the head for no clear-cut reason with the wooden mallet he had borrowed from his mother’s kitchen. It did not hurt much, as I was wearing my Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat with both ear flaps tied up neatly in a bow on top, providing extra protection from onslaught, but I must say it struck me that Zach, who was nearly a whole year and a half older than me, same age as my brother Jude in fact, Zach was the one in need of a few pointers regarding recommended behaviour in the great world and society at large. Never mind. The way I saw it, he was just testing out his enthusiasm for tools and surfaces, and, possibly, exploring a passing fancy for a future in architecture or construction work, and in my household, enthusiasms were encouraged, which is why I regularly went to and fro with a handful of 54mm World War I and World War II soldiers in my pocket for recreation purposes, with no one to stop me, although I am a girl and expected, in some circles, to have more seemly pursuits. You have to allow for enthusiasms, you never know where they may lead, so I knew to keep my composure the day Zach hit me on the head with a meat pulveriser. No. Tenderiser. So there you are, that is what I mean, it depends on how you look at things, how bashing away at a piece of beefsteak with a wooden hammer can induce a quality of tenderness in meat is just as surprising, perhaps, as my not protesting the risk of brain damage I incurred at the age of eight or so, instead, forgiving Zach on account of his enthusiasms and general spirit of endeavour.
I think all stories are like this, about looking out for a way to be in life without messing up in the end, a way to be that feels like home, and if you bear this in mind, it’s easy to see some situations as OK which might strike you otherwise as downright odd, and that story about Francis of Assisi and the crow is just one example of many. At the latter end of his life, Francis befriends a crow who is fiercely devoted, sitting right next to Francis at mealtimes, and traipsing after him on visits to the sick and leprous, and following his coffin when he died, whereupon the crow lost heart and simply fell apart, refusing to eat and so on, until he died also. Now, if you nip along the street or go about the shopping with a crow at your heels, you are not likely to make friends in a hurry, because it is odd behaviour, and not recommended. Unless you are a saint, in which case it is OK. So that’s one thing. The other OK-not-OK thing in this story is how that crow did not choose to make life easy and fall in love with his or her own kind, another crow with whom that bird might have a bright future and bring up little crows and so on. No. For the crow, Francis was home, that’s all there is to it, it is OK.
This is also how it goes for le petit prince in the book of that name by M. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a story about a small boy in a single suit of fine princely haberdashery, living on an asteroid with a volcano, a baobab tree and a rose, and having nothing much to do but watch the sunset. In the scheme of things, it is not so odd that he falls in love with the rose, and leaves his tiny planet in a fit of lovesickness, taking advantage of a migration of wild birds for his journey, hanging on to them, as it shows in the watercolour, by way of special reins. The prince finally lands on Earth wherein he has a shady encounter with a snake who has murder in mind, albeit concealed in a promise to this small lovestruck and visionary boy, a promise of return, a single ticket home by way of the eternal worlds.
Upon landing, the prince asks, Where did I fall, what planet is this?
I remember everything.
Everything and nothing is strange. It depends how you look at it.
Zach, now, is something in law, Jude says, although I keep forgetting the details, because all I can think is how Zach found a place where everything ought to come out right, and where even hammers crash down upon suitable surfaces for the tenderising of felony and injustice, and I hope he is happy, I hope so, though I don’t know, as I do not go in for telephones and letters these days, not now I have fallen out with society and the great world, but still I have enthusiasms, ones I pursue in low-lit rooms, with my handful of soldiers here, entering my world in unlikely ways, it might seem, to strangers.
October 1935. Joseph Goebbels issues a decree forbidding the inscription of names of fallen Jewish soldiers on war memorials, men who fell for the sake of younger men who are now getting busy scratching out offensive Jewish names from tablets of stone with what you might call corrupt and frenzied enthusiasm.
Me, I turn away and weep.
Where did I fall, what planet is this?
I hear it, I see it, and I was not there, it’s a vision. I remember everything.
Under the influence of gravity, stars in orbit in an elliptical galaxy such as ours are always falling, always falling without colliding, and the greater the mass, the greater the attraction, and the faster a thing falls, the faster it moves in orbit, so the Moon, for one, is always falling towards Earth, but never hits it, and I like to think William Blake, b.1757, d.1827, would appreciate this, as he was very interested in fallen man, and for William, memory is merely part of time, an aspect of the fall, and the visionary worlds are the true regions of reminiscence, a realm wherein every man is uncrowned king for eternity and there is no need for memorials because, so he wrote, Man the Imagination liveth for Ever.
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