BOOK REVIEW – CRAIG DAVIDSON – A MEAN UTILITY 2005 Picador Shots

 

A rather brutal and cynical short novella about the illegal sport of dog fighting. The narrator works as an advertising executive who has to find ways to promote products that most people would rather not think or talk about, let alone see advertised, such as Diarrheic medicines.  His personal life is equally messed up as he has serious fertility issues and his wife, Alison, desperately wants children.

 

Only one thing keeps the couple together in their crumbling marriage where her patience is wearing thin – their appreciation for the dog fights. Alison breeds fighter dogs, and as her husband’s efforts to impregnate her fail, she puts her prize dog into increasingly challenging fights, toughening it up by being cruel and heartless. It is clear that her husband is developing too much of a soft spot for the dog, and sees it as a surrogate child. His caring and sensitive side further jeopardizes his relationship.

 

The dog bites him, and yet he still loves it, and protects it from angry neighbours who it has also proved to be a threat. Eventually, his wife pitches the dog into a very mismatched fight against a notorious champion savage dog that his own dog cannot hope to win.  Sure enough, his dog receives savage, life threatening blows, but Alison insists on sending it back to fight on, to the last. Unable to cope with the nearest thing he will ever know to a child being killed before his eyes, the narrator runs into the arena where he is attacked by the dying dog the triumphal champion, and the audience who have placed bets on the outcome of the battle as well. Savaged by teeth and the barbed hooks normally used to separate dogs from their clinches, the hero dies in some contentment and the knowledge that he has done the right thing for his child. 

 

Short, clever and shockingly uncompromising – an excellent and unexpected classic.

 

 Arthur Chappell

 

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