It’s the night of the Yellow Puff-Ball Mushroom Cloud and a mysterious yellow fog is making its way across the world, sowing chaos in its path. Mt. Fuji has erupted. The Euphrates has run dry. In America the White House is under attack by giant bears, the President is missing, and the Vice President has turned into a Bichon Frise. It’s Apocalypse Time, my friends. Soon the Beast will rise. And six unlikely women must make the perilous journey to the Pit of Nethalem, where they will stop the Beast from fulfilling its evil purpose, or die trying. The Book of Dog is a tale of female friendship, politics, religion, demon possession, motherhood, love, betrayal, and occasional bestiality. It’s a contemporary Candide with a dollop of Animal Farm and a dash of Metamorphosis thrown in. It wryly explores how even the most insignificant and powerless of people, when working together, can change the world.
The Book of Dog by Lark Benobi ($16): “Here is the story of how six unlikely women changed the fate of the world. In the beginning, Mary Mbwembwe was making a cup of chamomile tea. Josefina Guzman was chasing a fox from her yard. Margie Peach was pumping gas into her car. Wanda Lubiejewski was plunging a stopped toilet. Major Eureka Yamanaka was hefting a briefcase into Marine Helicopter Squadron One. As for Stella King, she was unexpectedly pregnant with the unborn child of the Beast. It could have happened to anyone. The Beast was a creature of compelling and seductive disguises… and he had set in motion, with this petty lie, the countdown to the end times. The Beast could fool the best of them, and he almost always got his way. But maybe not this time.”
Mary Mbwembwe, caregiver, sees a frightening yellow cloud spreading out across the sky. The cloud resembled something alive, spores from a giant mushroom that began to cover everything. This is one of the first signs of the coming Apocalypse. The cloud is discovered to be full of a chemical called Agent-T, and its main effect seems to be turning people, particularly women, into animals with human brains. Margie becomes a dog after volunteering to drive Stella to meet the baby’s father in San Francisco, and Wanda turns into a bear. The women come together in a world that has gone completely chaotic, weather and environmental disasters merging with mass violence and political upheaval to create the beginning of the end.
The book serves as a metaphor for female powerlessness in male and religion-dominated societies, but its six heroines are still willing to kick ass and take names, even if some of them have to do so in the form of beasts, and another while having conversations with the Beast’s unborn child. The irreverent and fantastical novel is filled with evocative, stylized cartoons and is an ode to friendship. Individually, they may not be able to change very much, but together, every dog has her day.
Lark Benobi unabashedly takes on modern politics in all its bestial madness in The Book of Dog, celebrating the joys of womanhood, diversity, and the wonders of nature.
The apocalypse arrives in California via a yellow puffball mushroom cloud that rises from the Mexican border to blanket the planet. Code-named Agent-T, the cloud turns women into beasts and men into conservative and religious fanatics who denigrate women.
On the same day, a pregnant teenager, Stella, runs away from her aunt’s home and travels to Nethalem to find Lix Tetrax, her baby’s father—alternatively known by the names Lucifer, The Ruler of the Free World, and the seven-headed beast. Stella befriends five women-turned-beasts along the way: the physically deformed Margie; a down-on-her-luck waitress, Wanda; a marine officer, Eureka; an undocumented caretaker, Mary; and the poverty-stricken Josefina. Together, they attempt to stop the seven-headed beast from enacting his malicious agenda.
The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of the six women. Their origin stories arise from social, economic, religious, or cultural grievances that play a significant role in their bestial transformations and serve as cleverly constructed metaphors for current affairs. Religious imagery of angels and beasts represents the dividing duality of politics.
The story, which begins in verse, flows effortlessly with concise writing and comedic lyricism. Short sentences are interspersed with longer, stream-of-consciousness passages from the characters in their animal forms: “Even after having lived a mediocre life full of sorrow … you have stayed together through it all, still keeping faith in what it means to love, and be loved.”
The book’s simple, childlike sketches are interspersed between chapters and add to the fantastical ambiance. Images provide clues to each woman’s transformation. Depictions of Stella in free-flowing, form-fitting, belly-baring t-shirts are comical yet subtly deliver a message about male domination and male chauvinism.
The Book of Dog may be a crazy kitchen-sink satire of modern politics, but it is also a triumphant tale about marginalized people who work together to effect the greater good.
Reviewed by Nancy Powell
In Benobi’s (After, 2005, as Claire Tristram) allegorical novel, a mysterious toxin turning people into animals turns out to be a sign of the Apocalypse.
There’s something ominous about a yellow fog rolling into California from the south. It suddenly appears at the same time that Stella King, a pregnant young woman, runs away from her aunt’s home (her mother is in jail and her father’s not in the picture). Stella hitches a ride with a woman named Margie Peach to Nethalem on San Francisco Bay, where her boyfriend, Lix Tetrax, who’s also the baby’s father, is waiting. Meanwhile, a doctor at the Centers for Disease Control identifies the yellow cloud as a chemical agent called Agent-T, which is also cropping up throughout the rest of the country. Its origins are unknown, but it’s physically transforming people into animals (who retain their human minds), and girls and women appear to be particularly susceptible. Margie, for example, becomes a dog, while waitress Wanda Lubiejewski’s unexpected metamorphosis into a bear scares her cheating husband into arming himself for protection. Stella, meanwhile, hears stories of people rioting, cities on fire, and “Angels” and “Beasts” engaged in war on Earth. Fate puts Stella, Margie, and Wanda together, along with U.S. Air Force Maj. Eureka Yamanaka, caregiver Mary Mbwembwe, and Nethalem villager Josefina Guzman. All undergo changes, physical and otherwise; Wanda, for instance, garners new emotional strength as her preteen daughter’s protector. But the End of Days is upon them, as the book of Revelation has already foretold. Soon, the six women will face off against the being who may be behind the Apocalypse.
Benobi’s story offers wonderfully surreal moments rich with metaphor, as when signs of Agent-T’s approach create an atmosphere of foreboding; Stella has conversations with her unborn child, who offers warnings about people before Stella encounters them. These scenes are complemented by the author’s illustrations throughout, which resemble sketches from an artist’s notebook. The pictures, while vibrant and fully comprehensible, are typically unrealistic, depicting Mary with thin, squiggly arms, for instance, with an eye floating above the rest of her face. Benobi also fills her pages with powerful themes, particularly exploring the ways that a male-dominated society treats and views women. These can sometimes be too on-the-nose; for example, Wanda believes people will react to her bear self with fear and hate, unnecessarily adding that it’s what “humans often do when confronted with a creature that they can’t control or dominate.” Nevertheless, such comments have merit, as when Stella notes that women in many religions tend to get “the short end.” Overall, Benobi’s prose is straightforward and concise, with frequent instances of poetry: “Dawn was raw at the edges and the air smelled fresh and washed clean….Life at the moment was rich and full of promise.” The plot effectively establishes how the various players’ paths are destined to intersect, and anticipation of these distinctive women’s inevitable interactions propels the story forward.
A fantasy tale with unforgettable characters and a convincing, insightful message.