cover image The Dog

The Dog

Jack Livings. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-37417-853-6

Livings’s debut collection of stories set in China builds on the works of fellow writers Yiyun Li and Ma Jian in illustrating the ways in which personal dynamics and workplace disharmony are refractions of a culture of corruption and control as well as China’s wider revolutionary history. In the title story, an unhappy couple whose dog-racing side-business is subjected to a government crackdown resolves to eat the evidence. “Mountain of Swords, Sea of Fire,” in which a weathered journalist despairs of the hack work and political cant he produces while living in denial of his own complicity in silencing democratic agitators, develops Livings’s themes more subtly, as does “The Pocketbook,” in which the universities’ placating attitude toward scholars and foreign guests is laid bare after a rich American student has her purse stolen. Livings has a talent for showing how officially sanctioned credos underscore grim realities: “Donate!” deals with the personal stakes of charity, as a factory worker becomes enmeshed in a relief fund set up for earthquake victims, and “The Crystal Sarcophagus” recounts the lengths to which a glass factory must go after it is tasked with the construction of Chairman Mao’s coffin. Though a few of Livings’s stories verge uneasily on allegory, masterpieces like “The Heir,” with its unflinching depiction of an aging Uighur gangster whose stranglehold on the community is threatened by government thugs, make this collection a socially complex and pitch-perfect account of modernization’s grueling aftermath. (Aug.)