Like Revenge, Brown Dog starts with a visually arresting image.
Instead of a vulture circling to earth and croaking at a dying man, Brown Dog opens with a “dead three-hundred pound ancient Indian chief sitting bolt upright on the bottom of Lake Superior.”
He sits on a ledge as if in meditation, prophesying. His hair wavers in the current. He looks perfectly alive save the absence of his eyes. The continuous kiss of cartilaginous lips have pecked away at the soft tissue. Fish are affectionate that way. A Tiresias of the deep.
For B.D., a petty criminal and diver of sunken ship artifacts, this is a great find, indeed. A well-preserved dead Indian fetches a black market value of 20 thousand bucks. B.D. has a second chance to put his life aright.
So he pops two blue marbles in Tiresias’ eye sockets. Then hot wires a stolen ice truck and drives the body to Chicago on a highly entertaining caper that eventually lands B.D. in the pokey.
One of the chief effects of Brown Dog is self-effacing humor. Harrison achieves it with a nifty little conceit. B.D. is a chronic lier in a relationship with a woman based on a lie who, the lier claims, urges B.D. to write down his thoughts as honestly as possible to become healthy, whole, one.
Add to this that B.D. is a blue-collar guy’s guy and his lover a college educated woman whose head is laden with theory. She loves to practice her insight psychology on him and “probes” him at all hours of the day. She’s smart. She knows things. So B.D. tries his best to be worthy of smart thoughts.
Problem is, he doesn’t want to think smart thoughts.
“My favorite thing is just plain walking in the woods. I can do it days on end without getting tired of it. I mix this up a bit with fishing and hunting. Of course I like to make love and drink. That goes without saying.”
The result is a reluctant confessional that treats virtues and vices with comic irony and a deadpan delivery.
It’s my favorite Harrison novella yet.