Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review: Rose in a Storm, Jon Katz

Jon Katz has written a good deal of books, many of them regarding his dogs and the farm that he bought after fleeing a suburban lifestyle.  He named the farm Bedlam Farm (or at least I think he's the one who named it; I don't think it came that way), and in its early days had a prolifery of sheep, a rescued steer named Elvis, at least one rooster, whose name escapes me...but, you get the picture.  Bedlam indeed.  But, if you read dog books, pay attention to the dog world, or read TheSlate.com, it's likely you already know who Jon Katz is.

One of the aforementioned dogs is Rose, a Border Collie.  Not precisely the main character in Rose in a Storm, but certainly a strong source of inspiration.  I'm given to understand that Rose is one of those Border Collies who is very business-minded, who lives to work the sheep, and thinks about the sheep, rinse, repeat.  I think the population of sheep on Bedlam Farm nowadays is considerably reduced, or perhaps even seasonable, and Rose may occasionally turn her attention to the Frisbee with the same famed Border Collie focus.

But, Rose in a Storm is fiction, and about a working farm, and Rose the Border Collie (mix), and the lone gentleman who runs it all.

As the title of the book easily belies, Rose in a Storm is, in fact, about a storm.  A big ol' blizzard, in fact, on a farm in Upstate New York, though the events of the novel open as the storm is a-brewin' and not yet arrived.  The relationship between Sam, the farmer, and Rose, the working dog, is obviously a working one but also obviously  more than that.  Rose does not like to be petted, and wants to be taken seriously, but her love and dedication for Sam (and vice versa) is very apparent.  

The book is in third person, most often following Rose's perspective.  It also, interestingly, delves into instinct and instinctual (or perhaps ancestral) memory.  There are dream sequences in which Rose recalls an ancient firelight, men of a different sort, things like that.  Done incorrectly, this sort of thing could have been silly and laughable, but the writing was just so, and the passages were not out of place.  As a writer, I think I can say that it must have been very fun and interesting for Katz to immerse himself so fully in the dog perspective, and the dog senses of the story.  

Katz also did well in evoking the dedication and ethic that a working dog will have.  A lot of people write about Border Collies; it's THE Herding Breed, depending on who you ask, and have been used as stock dogs for generations before people did things like make money off of writing dog books.  A Border Collie, when working, takes her cues from her human partner, but also at times must rely upon her own judgement in situations, and make her own decisions on when and how to take action.  This is the case in may working pair instances; Search and Rescue and Guide Dogs, as two immediate examples.  In the course of the book, Rose makes altruistic decisions that might seem like anthropomorphizing to people who are not immersed in the animal world.  To me, with how many books and articles I've read on the topic, Katz may have pushed the envelope a tad; but, on the other hand, he may not.  Dogs do extraordinary things when they feel a responsibility and are left to their own devices.  

Though I'd like more Doberman books to exist in the world, I did still enjoy this Border Collie one, and wonder if Katz has more fiction of this kind in him.  

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