Book Review: Andre Alexis' FIFTEEN DOGS

"I'll wager a year's servitude," said Apollo, "that animals—any animal you choose—would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they had human intelligence."

"I'll take that bet," said Hermes, "but on condition, that if, at the end of its life, even one of the creatures is happy, I win."                                  "

But that's a matter of chance," said Apollo. "The best lives sometimes end badly and the worst sometimes end well... Either way, I accept your terms. Human intelligence is not a gift. It's an occasionally useful plague."  —Andre Alexis, Fifteen Dogs

 In Andre Alexis' Fifteen Dogs (Coach House, 2015), the gods Hermes and Apollo bestow human intelligence on fifteen dogs who are spending the night at a veterinarian clinic in present-day Toronto. Suddenly conscious of how to escape from their imprisonment, most of the dogs seek freedom. The novel then follows each of the lives and deaths of these dogs, with occasional further meddling by the gods. 

Readers will experience a vast range of emotions while reading Fifteen Dogs. The story explores what it means to live a fulfilling life and what exactly that means. Are the gods right in measuring a being's overall quality of life by their emotions at the moment of death? Does happiness derive from the internal self or external connections with others? 

Alexis' book defines human intelligence as the ability to think critically and engage in thoughtful discussion with others. Along with these new abilities, the dogs still possess animalistic tendencies and a canine outlook on order and rule. Some dogs try to revert back to the old ways of life with a clear hierarchy of dominant and submissive dogs, and ban their new forms of language. A Lord of the Flies type situation ensues. 

Bella, a great dane, and Athena, a teacup poodle, form a beautiful, symbiotic bond. Despite committing atrocities against the other dogs, pack leader Atticus finds religion and pleases Zeus. Poodle Majnoun forges a relationship with a human woman that is so strong the fates cannot separate their life threads. Exiled Prince finds joy in creating poetry. 

Much like the joy some of the dogs find in word play, readers will find delight in this artful book. There is hidden poetry within each chapter. Each sentence in the book is written with precision and a certain crispness, making the book a quick and smooth read. Witty, delightful, tragic, shocking, and bewildering, this is one of those books I would recommend to most. It is a book unlike any other that will challenge one's way of thinking and appreciation of life.