Black Dogs

Ian McEwan, Author
Ian McEwan, Author Nan A. Talese $19.5 (149p) ISBN 978-0-385-42541-4
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In this slim, provocative novel, McEwan ( The Innocent ) examines the conflict between intellect and feeling, as dramatized in one couple's troubled relationship. The narrator is fascinated by his wife's estranged parents, The lives of June and Bernard Tremaine, whose lives epitomize the tug-of-war between political engagement and a private search for ultimate meaning: their ideological and spiritual differences force them apart but never diminish their mutual love. The catalytic event in the Tremaines' lives occurs on their honeymoon in France in 1946. With the characteristic idealism of their generation, both had joined the Communist Party, but June is already becoming disenchanted with its claims. In an encounter with two huge, ferocious dogs--incarnations of the savagely irrational eruptions that recur throughout history--she has an insight that illumines for her the possibility of redemption. Liberally foreshadowed, --the bloodthirsty beasts are used as an overarching metaphor for the presence of evil in the world-- the actual episode with the dogs is not depicted until the book's final section, where its impact requires the reader to take a leap of faith similar to June's. For some this pivotal scene may not be fully convincing. Indeed, McEwan is rather too didactic in the exposition of his theme, so one may expect too much from the novel's dramatic main event. Yet the work is impressive; McEwan's meticulous prose, his shaping of his material to create suspense, and his adept use of specific settings--Poland's Majdanek concentration camp, Berlin during the dismantling of the Wall, a primitive area of the French countryside--produce a haunting fable about the fragility of civilization, always threatened by the cruelty latent in humankind. (Nov.)
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