cover image The Dog

The Dog

Joseph O’Neill. Pantheon, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-307-37823-1

As he did brilliantly in Netherland, O’Neill, in his latest, creates a character who is alienated from his home and social class, and who feels dangerously vulnerable in a country in which he lives a luxurious but precarious existence. The unnamed narrator (we do learn that his given name begins with X) fled from his position in a Manhattan law firm after a bad breakup with a colleague. Feeling lucky at first to get a job in Dubai as “family officer” of the wealthy Batros family, the narrator discovers that he must ignore his ethical principles in order to do the blatantly illegal work required of him. Everyone encountered by the narrator is corrupt, except for his assistant, Ali, who is a bidoon—a stateless person lacking basic human rights. O’Neill’s Dubai is “a vast booby trap of medieval judicial perils,” and the narrator gets caught in “one fucking glitch after another.” Gradually, the sordidness of his situation wears down the his psychological defenses. His agitated thoughts, which the author conveys in pitch-perfect prose, become more and more muddled; his asides within asides (indicated by multiple parentheses) veer into philosophical ramblings and recurrent mea culpas, as he accuses himself of “chronic self-misrepresentation and inner absenteeism.” The narrator develops an obsession with the disappearance of another American man, even while his own life cascades toward a dead end. Clever, witty, and profoundly insightful, this is a beautifully crafted narrative about a man undone by a soulless society. (Sept.)