The 14 stories of The Dogs of Detroit each focus on grief and its many strange permutations. This grief alternately devolves into violence, silence, solitude, and utter isolation. In some cases, grief drives the stories as a strong, reactionary force, and yet in other stories, that grief evolves quietly over long stretches of time. Many of the stories also use grief as a prism to explore the beguiling bonds within families. The stories span a variety of geographies, both urban and rural, often considering collisions between the two.
Sorrow and confusion have turned the men in Felver’s zero-sum world into animals. Shaken by tragedy and fueled with masculine pride, they aim to heal by inflicting maximum hurt. Felver’s families crack, and those left behind, bereft of compassion, turn diabolical in their pursuit of torture: of others and of themselves. Life is nothing beyond “an untended aggression” concludes the boy in the title story, who, after losing his drug-addled mother, savors envisioning “the worst things possible: toddler coffins, flayed penguins, pipe bombs in convents, napalm in orphanages.” (He settles for executing Detroit’s stray dogs.) Other characters jam screwdrivers underneath fingernails and snap shins in bear traps. According to the narrator of “How to Throw a Punch,” “Once you learn how to do it, you want to do it often.”
Felver can be inventive with tone, diction and perspective — and heartbreakingly solemn when he wants to be. Both “The Era of Good Feelings,” in which a high-school history teacher, burying his father, appraises his personal past, and “Hide-and-Seek,” in which estranged brothers collide at an airport bar, coolly dissect woe amid death and regret. But more often “The Dogs of Detroit” proves a shallow riff on an isolated theme. Felver may situate his tales from New York through Ohio up to Montana but their gratuitous savagery homogenizes these settings. Characters are similarly flattened by their penchant for destruction. Lines like “What would we do now, what would we hate now?” become their unthinking refrain.
Felver lays his words down in these stories in such a precise way that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to pull yourself away from a story once you’ve started.
[Felver] delivers what good fiction can: amplified truth — in this case, vividly imagined and rendered worst-case scenarios that reflect our current world in a very dark mirror.
The Dogs of Detroit is animated by a tough-minded vision of strife and frustration, beneath which runs a streak of compassion for its bereft, often violent characters. With consummate skill and assurance, Brad Felver writes of overlooked people suffering physical and emotional deprivation, who struggle, now and again with success, in thwarted lives. Ambivalence colors the deepest relationships, with love and hate resembling an ever shifting hologram.
Brad Felver is a master of voice and creating unforgettable characters, and the stories in The Dogs of Detroit are knockouts. This collection witnesses violence in its many permutations - the violence of loss, the violence of love, and even tangible, physical brutality when the violence of grief is overwhelming. Sometimes it is easier to throw a punch than to be undone by sorrow. But if these are characters in pain, they are also tremendously human, and even laugh-out-loud funny at times. No one writes like Brad Felver, and The Dogs of Detroit is a remarkable collection.
Felver has created a dark mirror for readers to gaze into.
Brad Felver is a fiction writer, essayist, and teacher of writing. His fiction has appeared widely in magazines such as One Story, Colorado Review, and Midwestern Gothic. His essays have appeared in New England Review, Hunger Mountain, BULL: Men’s Fiction, and Fiction Writer’s Review among other places. His awards include a Pushcart Prize Special Mention , the Zone 3 Fiction Prize, and most recently the 2018 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. The Dogs of Detroit is his first story collection. He lives with his wife and kids in northern Ohio.learn more