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Here is a first novel like no other a spellbinding tale that both creates its own fully realized world perspective and provides an incisive look at the ways that humans and animals resemble each other A group of elegant monster dogs in top hats tails and bustle skirts become instant celebrities when they come to New York in 2008 Refugees from a town whose residents had been utterly isolated for a hundred years the dogs retain the nineteenth century Germanic culture of the humans who created them They are wealthy and glamorous and seem to lead charmed lives but they find adjusting to the modern world difficult and when a young woman Cleo Pira befriends them she discovers that a strange incurable illness threatens them all with extinction When the dogs construct their dream home a fantastic castle on the Lower East Side and barricade themselves inside Cleo finds herself one of the few human witnesses to a mad lavish party that may prove to be the final act in the drama of the lives of the monster dogs


10 thoughts on “Lives of the Monster Dogs

  1. says:

    This may very well be the hardest review I've ever had to write Maybe that's why I've put off writing it for so long I read the book two months ago and find myself still thinking about itI decided to revisit this one because it reminded me so much of this historical gothic tale I just read and I wanted to compare it to my thoughts of this oneI really liked this book but I'm not uite sure why The plot is confusing and disturbing but at the same time magical and captivating This book could actually be referenced as a literary conundrum the emotions it conjures contradict each other most of the characters are grotesue and awful but on the same token sympathetic and the ending left me with such a horrible feeling Melancholy unease disturbing imagery but overall it was just sad I think I literally read the last sentence closed my book and just stared at the cover for 10 minutes or so just to take in everything that I'd readI have no idea where Kirsten Bakis got the idea for this novel and as she hasn't to my knowledge published anything else I have nothing else to reference as I ponder over this unusual plot The novel takes place mostly in New York City in a time unknown when Monster Dogs gargantuan dogs that can walk upright talk dress and otherwise act like humans mysteriously immigrate to the city and take up residence in a hotel The dogs are adorned in early 20th century Prussian dress and seem to be very well mannered and old fashioned and have become celebrities of sorts We see the action through the eyes of Cleo a young writer living in the city who becomes swept up in the dogs' mysterious and attractive world The present action written from Cleo's POV is interspersed with journal entries from Ludwig the German Shepherd historian of the Monster Dogs and that of Augustus Rank the German scientist a la Dr Frankenstein who made the dogs and is thus their God and CreatorLike Cleo I was completely swept up in the dogs' saga even though the concept is completely absurd and disturbing Some of the dogs are lovely characters but a lot of them are snobbish vulgar rude and unfriendly and I'm uite convinced that had they been human the reader would immediately hate them However that could not be farther from the case I hurt for these dogs wanted to ease their pain and loneliness and dreaded their descent into madness view spoilerA little farther along in the novel the dogs decide to build a mansion in Manhattan that will house most of them and will also serve as a public museum for the people of the city who have been so kind and welcoming to them A party is thrown at the mansion upon its completion and what ensues is on one level maddening repulsive and unsettling but at its core is truly sad The dogs are all suffering from a mysterious disease in which they find themselves reverting back to regular house dogs Most of them instead of succumbing to the debilitating illness decided to take manners in to their own hands and commit suicide while the humans around them are forced to watch Cleo is there throughout everything that happens and we are thrown into the action just as she is We feel her frustration in trying so desperately to help her friends who simply do not want her help and our hearts break with hers as she is forced to stand by and watch fate take its turn hide spoiler


  2. says:

    uite magnificent 150 dogs arrive in NYC with prosthetic hands voice boxes and high intelligence It's about them struggling with cultural difference their history in 19th century Germany and the Canadian north and the meaning of their existence It's beautifully written thoroughly touching and embodies something fundamental for me about what makes New York so important


  3. says:

    I like the idea of this book but I am very confused by several of the author's decisions in writing it It seems as if the novel takes place in almost present day in a world exactly like our own except that the Monster Dogs exist And then for some inexplicable reason the main character Cleo owns a laser pistol The single idea of that laser pistol seems absurd than the Monster Dogs themselves and that small detail just keeps on bothering me As for the rest of the book I find Cleo very uninteresting and most of the conversations incredibly wooden so much so that I don't understand how the friendship with the dogs formed at all The writing is also incredibly passive and caused me to skim a lot of the pagesI am also bothered by how unrealistic people's reactions in the book are Cleo is not disturbed by the massacre at Rankstadt and she barely bats an eye that it even happened She isn't bothered by the idea of murder massive weapon arsenals or anything of that sort It's one of the most confusing things about this book In fact no one seems bothered by anything Augustus Rank dismembers animals? His guardians don't care Augustus performs weird sadistic surgery on a cow? Guardians don't care the cow's owner doesn't care and a local surgeon doesn't just not care about the sadism he thinks Augustus has a talent that must be encouragedAll in all I wanted to like this book I like the idea But the fact that no one acts or reacts in a manner that makes sense with humans has just left me perplexed


  4. says:

    Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography cclapcentercom I am the original author of this essay as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegallyOne of the sincerely biggest pleasures for me of being a book critic is to hear from the authors of the books I review letting me know of the various ways they feel I got my analyses of their manuscripts right and sometimeser not; so you can imagine my delighted surprise then when hearing out of the blue earlier this year from novelist Kirsten Bakis thanking me for a long and detailed look I did back in the 1990s of her first and so far only book the exuisite modern goth fever dream tale Lives of the Monster Dogs which turned out to be one of my favorite reads of that entire decade But see I'm embarrassed now of that write up I did it long before opening CCLaP back when I was a creative writer myself and only penned a handful of nonfiction pieces a year and like many artists in their twenties in the 1990s I was going at the time through a bad David Foster Wallace Insert Your Personal Life Too Much Into Your Critical Essays And Make Sure To Include Lots Of Superfluous Postmodernist Footnotes phase and while Bakis's lovely email inspired me to want to talk about her remarkable book again I cringed every time I thought of dragging that old terrible '90s review I did back into public sunlightSo I decided to do something a lot sensible instead which was simply read the novel again for the fourth time total and the first time in years and do a brand new write up based on how it struck me this time; and I have to say I'm glad I did because this almost perfect genre tale still holds up as the mindblowing industry changer it was greeted as when first coming out in 1997 and it was a real pleasure to get lost again in Bakis's deeply strange and proto steampunk world Because for those who don't know the title is rather a literal one; the novel is in fact about a race of super dogs that are created from the original work of a mad scientist from Victorian Age Bavaria only with his work never perfected until the early 2000s long after his death And so this makes the story a fussy Victorian fantastical tale and a modern urban fantasy at the same time a look at what happens when this race of talking intelligent surgically enhanced oversized dogs actually move to New York and announce themselves to the world while also being an epistolary look back at this mad scientist one Augustus Rank and all the steps in the late 1800s that led to him coming up with this idea in the first placeOr well the book's actually a lot than this as well which is what got it so much attention in the first place right in the same years that Donna Tartt's The Secret History was exploring the same general territory; written by an award winning academic author during her years at the Iowa Writers Workshop and indeed this novel won several awards too including the Stoker Award for Best First Novel plus made the short list of that year's Orange Prize Monster Dogs is also a look at the century Rank and his followers hid themselves away in a secret closed off community in rural Canada modeling themselves after the turn of the century Prussian society they came from and then promptly cutting off contact with the outside world which is why these dogs in the 2000s all speak in heavy High German accents and dress in tight collared military uniforms and the like And it's also about the terrible night that these successful test specimens after years of growing into maturity realize that it's time to overtake their former masters and violently slaughter all the humans in their hidden community led by a Bible uoting cur who claimed to be the reincarnated spirit of Rank himself And it's also about the neo classical opera that the dogs write in the 2000s to commemorate and explain this violent coup and the years of chaos that came afterwards a 25 page libretto of which Bakis has faithfully recreated within the novel; and it's also about the elaborate Bavarian castle the dogs decide to build literally at the intersection of Houston and B on Manhattan's Lower East Side paid for with the bundles of jewels that Rank and his followers slowly embezzled from Kaiser Wilhelm II a century previous back when this entire project was under imperial supervision in the hopes of creating an army of unstoppable canine soldiersWhew yeah I know And in another person's hands such a ridiculously high level of fancifulness would fall apart very uickly; but that's the remarkable thing about Bakis is that her natural talent plus years of honing this story makes it all tightly hold together no matter how ludicrous the details get even when the last third dips into the legitimately disturbing after the dogs come to realize that they are all slowly going insane so decide to hold a month long bacchanal in their Manhattan castle to celebrate their coming mass suicide even when this last third turns boldly experimental as we read the tone poem rantings of one of these semi insane dog's personal journal It's really for all these reasons that the novel was treated as a mainstream general interest book when it first came out despite it sounding at first like a story only a fanboy could love; it's because Bakis really is that good a storyteller that she can manage to make this engaging to professors suburban moms and all kinds of other types who never in a million years thought they'd ever get caught up in the machinations of six foot tall monocle sporting Great Danes who have had their front paws surgically replaced with prosthetic human handsThese days of course post Buffy and post Lost and post steampunk the utter originality of this story doesn't have uite the same impact; but believe me when I say that when it first came out in the '90s it rather literally blew off the tops of the heads of all my circle of friends and myself and in fact I think it's fair to say that neither the urban fantasy nor steampunk genres would be uite as rich today without groundbreakers like this one that paved the way Bakis intimated in her email to me that she might never write another novel again so let me be the first to bemoan in public what a profound shame this would be; reading it again this month for the first time in half a decade I was reminded all over again of what a nearly perfect novel it in fact is and that the literary arts in general could really benefit from another tale with this level of sophistication and sheer beauty again Here's hoping that Bakis will indeed pull up those bootstraps and crank out another modern classic again; but in the meanwhile we still have this magnificent first volume which I highly encourage all my fellow genre fans to devour soon if they never have before


  5. says:

    The Monster Dogs in uestion walk upright speak through electronic voice boxes possess prosthetic hands and dress in the fashions of 19th century Prussia naturally Incredibly smart they are also fabulously wealthy and descend on New York in our near future after spending a century hiding out in the wilds of Northern Canada They leave this town called Rankstadt after murdering their former masters along with every man women and child and burning the city to the ground which we find out in an operatic libretto later in the book Yeah this is uirky to put it mildly The dogs straight up murdered an entire city and are now feted in New York Their creator Augustus Rank is Victor Frankenstein’s sociopathic veterinarian brother It has this gothic feel with shades of Stoker and there is a pervasive sense of wistful melancholy throughout I’m just not exactly sure what I was supposed to take away from this all


  6. says:

    The journalist Cleo was the least interesting part of Lives of the Monster Dogs great title for me She goes on and on about getting them how sad their plight is and yet how tragic it is that it is going to end Okay it's not the birth of rock and roll out of slaves forced to the usa or classic Hollywood benefiting from geniuses forced out by the Nazis They had dress up parties in a big mansion and she gets to come for the one last time party like the kids in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory It was sad that Willy Wonka wasn't going to make candy any But he didn't need to he'd done all he wanted to for himself Public consumption was never the idea anyway These dogs had to survive in spite of their whole physical beings with not even a grasping at straws sense of purpose they have paws And they are dying I felt bad for them as fellow animals not that there was inherent beauty in their fucked up situations What is the point of creating art and sharing it with anyone else? Do you HAVE to share it? Does someone need religion to carry on or building society starting a family? The dogs don't even have the luxury of pretending to work it all out They were created by a mad scientist who wanted to use them as war dogs for his mad mad schemes Why would they care what the world thought of them and send their big message with the final party? All Ludwig wanted was what most anybody else struggling with those uestions would want The end result of impending death wasn't his tragedy it was having to live with it at allCleo and the dogs relationship never took on the same meaning for me as that with their creator He was sick yes but he made them They felt about him the complicated love of a parent who fucked you over by bringing you about in the first place Being a pet and being a child were ideas that never really took shape in Bakis' book Cleo reads like a gushing musical review from another famous person who oh so badly wants their old favorite to validate them I'm thinking of pretty much any celebrity who writes about Morrissey for example But I understand I understand feeling like a freak out of place It's not hard to if you live in this world or the fictionalized world of 'Monster Dogs' Patting yourself on the back for it though? Feel free to stroke my dog's head because he does have to live with a freak like me It was a pain in the ass reading the parts of the stories from Cleo's perspective Wish someone had told Bakis that while she was writing the book so she'd have gotten down to the real biz of writing her story SighSidenote As a person fixated on Russia and Canada I did find that atmosphere of the journals interesting Wish the dogs would take over for realz


  7. says:

    I'm a huge dog lover and found this story of walking talking intelligent dogs very interesting There is a sad undertone to the whole story and an underlying thread of darkness cruelty and the grotesue the cow the cow Very original and imaginative The only small complaint I have and it is because of the way the story is being told in journal entries and by several different points of view I was unable to connect to any one character or know any of them on an intimate level I do wish it hadn't ended with so many uestions left unanswered


  8. says:

    During the 1800's a scientist came up with an idea to create a league of super soldiers He wanted them to be intelligent strong and most of all loyal His answer to create a monster dog Able to walk upright give prosthetic hands and voice boxes so they could speak the monster dogs became a reality But eventually the dogs wanted out of life so they began their exodus from the lab into New York City This is definitely a book that needs a hefty amount of creative thinking and imagination but it is also a wonderful story of what it means to be a human to be alive


  9. says:

    A few months ago I read Carmen Dog by Carol Emshwiller and obviously I was reminded of this since both are New York novels featuring intelligent talking canines when I picked up Bakis's book In reality the two are uite different creations Emshwiller's is a feminist surrealist satire while Bakis a significantly disciplined writer has produced a very moving book that while not without its own satirical and surrealist moments approaches its subject matter almost reverentially Back at the end of the 19th century and first part of the 20th mitteleuropean sociopath Augustus Rank had a dream of creating by use of prosthetics dogs that could walk and talk Fleeing eventually to Canada where he founded a remote settlement to further his project he was still never to see the success he craved Those who survived him however did manage to bring into being the monster dogs of the book's title dogs who in our present the book's near future massacre their human creators and come to New York in hope of finding their place in human society and also of rediscovering their own past By happenstance a young woman called Cleo becomes their chronicler You might expect that those chronicles of hers would comprise the novel's text but no here we have Cleo's own informal reminiscences of her encounters and interactions with some of the canine leaders and intellectuals plus various documents even including an opera libretto depicting the dogs' past Far too soon though the dogs realize they can have no future that their construction includes irreparable flaws and they prepare the way for their species to have a dignified exit To say this book is odd would be trite and also misleading because one of the wonderful things about it is that it's almost not odd before very long I found myself accepting its narrative which avoids all temptations to lurch into Dr Moreau territory as something uite naturalistic as if there were nothing outrageous at all about a community of talking dogs having implausible adventures in NYC This is a haunting marginally disuieting book that I suspect I'll be remembering for a very long time to come


  10. says:

    Lives of the Monster Dogs is a book that truly explores the nature of what it is to be human which may sound strange when I tell you that it is a story about dogs When told a short version of the plot people sometimes laugh but I have to tell you that it is one of the most beautiful melancholy books that I have ever readThe book follows the life of character Cleo Pira a young reporter who one night meets one of the 'monster dogs' and becomes involved in their strange lives The Monster dogs are all large breeds of dogs Great Danes German Shepherds etc They have been genetically engineered to have the intelligence of humans and have prosthetic hands They were living until recently in a village in a remote region of Canada After a revolt against their human masters they come to modern New York City Rich and strange they uickly become celebrities and create their own rarefied world Cleo comes to know and love two of these dogs especially her friends Ludwig and LydiaReading this story I too found myself deeply loving these eccentric melancholy creatures not human but not uite animal either doomed by their intelligence to a sad lonely existence The sad twisted history of their tortured creator is also deeply engrossing This book still remains one of the most beautiful books I have ever read and I would recommend it to everyoneThere is also a rumoured film in the works I can only hope that it will still have the beauty and dignity of the book Review from my blog