cover image King: A Street Story

King: A Street Story

John Berger. Pantheon Books, $20 (200pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40556-3

It's difficult to tell a serious story in the voice of a dog, but that's what art critic (About Looking; Ways of Seeing) and novelist (G.) Berger has accomplished. The canine King introduces readers to a variety of intriguing humans in the squatter's community of Saint Val ry, France, among them his owners--the well-educated but decadent Vico and the uncontrolled and passionate Vica--and Jack, the unofficial landlord of the settlement. The narrative rambles and ambles like its characters, blending speakers' reminiscences with present action; frequently, the squatters explain their pasts and describe how they became homeless. Berger creates a memorable setting for his cast, including an abandoned building jokingly dubbed Pizza Hut and a canyon called the Boeing because remnants of an aircraft have settled there. Though King narrates, much of the novel consists of human dialogue, with King functioning as a passive observer; his infrequent contributions, then, sensual and wise, are all the more notable and surprising. Berger's deceptively spare, disjointed style represents depths upon depths of perception and wisdom; in the bare landscape he has created, each word acquires symbolic resonance. So does each person: the political undercurrent in this tale of scrappy homeless people pushed out of the way by financial expediency will be lost on few readers. In bringing us so believably inside the head of an animal to elucidate the vagaries of human nature, Berger has not only accomplished an impressive technical feat, but has performed a humane act. (May)