Katie Crouch’s Men and Dogs (2010) drew my attention because of the title and the cover. While the cover meets the aesthetic of Crouch’s first novel, Girls in Trucks, (which I have not read) neither it nor the title suit this novel and I’ve been trying to reconcile the disconnect since reading the first chapter.
When Hannah Legare is eleven, her father disappears after taking the small boat and the dog out on the Charleston harbor. The boat and the dog are recovered, Buzz Legare is not. Hannah does not believe he died that day, and as she ages, she looks for her father – clinging to the men who have even the slightest resemblance to that man she was so sure would come back home. Textbook abandonment and daddy issues, and Hannah is fully aware. She is an alcoholic and self-destructive.
Hannah’s older brother Palmer was just discovering his sexuality and exploring it with his best friend when his father didn’t come home that April night. While he has accepted that his father is dead, he believes his father killed himself. His guilt is the face in the gym window watching horrified as Palmer kisses a boy. Palmer becomes a veterinarian because of Tucker, the dog that had waited terrified and alone on that boat, for Buzz to come back. He never allows himself to love a dog more than he’d loved Tucker. He never allows himself to love anything or anyone at all. He is self-absorbed and self-destructive.
A drunken mistake, a dangerous fall caused by a terrier, and an estranged husband at his wit’s end result in Hannah being sent to Charleston to dry out – it was either rehab or the undesired homecoming. Once in the South, Hannah begins again to chase her father’s ghost. She pours over a box of photographs that she believes belonged to her father. Her high-school sweetheart’s mother appears in nearly all of them. Did her father love Virginia? Were they having an affair? And what about her mother’s new husband – the one who quickly stepped in after her dad went missing. Was he involved? Her mother swears they never met before the funeral, but she finds a picture of her parents and he’s lingering in the background. Hannah, supposedly home to heal and sober up, continues her unhealthy journey down a rabbit hole lined with secrets and the disjointed memories of an eleven-year-old.
The title derives from a brief conversation between Palmer and Hannah wherein she proclaims that “men are such fucking dogs.” Palmer tells her it’s a bad idiom as there is “nothing more faithful than a dog.” He uses Rumpus, his nervous terrier with damaged vocal cords, as an example. There was a missed opportunity to use canines as foils of the siblings. Crouch gets halfway there with Palmer, but she doesn’t follow through with Hannah – and this is primarily Hannah’s redemption arc.
Men and Dogs is a quick and easy read, and, on its face, the plot had great potential. But the characters are rather unlikeable, the three dogs that actually do appear don’t get the respect they deserve, and the ending stumbles.