Book: Automatic Safe Dog
Author: Jet McDonald
Type of Book: Fiction, humor, just plain disturbing
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This is an utterly fucked-up book that combines several genres into an unsettling, sometimes hilarious, sometimes trenchant book.
Availability: Published by Eibonvale Press in 2011, you can get a copy on Amazon or you can get a copy cheaper directly from the publisher.
Comments: When I began this novel, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish it because it features a business plan wherein dogs are turned into miserable, rigid, stationary pieces of living furniture. I cannot stomach cruelty to animals and, in a way, the cruelty to these dogs was all the more horrible because it was so bloodless, matter-of-fact and accepted by others in the context of the book. I suspect the reason I was able to finish the book in spite of the content is because McDonald managed to subvert the use of abused animals in a horror-like narrative. They aren’t victims of one specific madman but are a symbol of a larger societal callousness. Somehow, that distinction made it easier for me to tolerate what happens to dogs in this book, as unlikely as that may seem.
This is a dense book – a murder mystery in the vein of And Then There Were None, a frustrating love story, a story of corporate subversion and a moral awakening – so know my synopsis of the plot, by necessity, must leave out a lot of details. The protagonist, a sort of sad sack Everyman named Terribly “Telby” Velour, begins the novel working for one of a number of Pet Furnishings warehouses. There he meets a new employee named Ravenski Helena Goldbird, for whom he develops a deep infatuation. As he tries to impress her one day, he engages in an antic that breaks the back of one of the dog-furniture pieces and gets fired. He later learns Ravenski Helena Goldbird is actually the adopted daughter of the CEO of the Pet Furnishings firm and he decides to create a new identity in order to get a new job with Pet Furnishings. Ravenski Helena Goldbird is now part of the executive board and Telby cons his way into a job in research and development in order to be closer to her. Telby enters a labyrinthine world of corporate espionage, personal viciousness, wanton cruelty and salacious behavior, all tempered by subversive hilarity and sly ridiculousness that prevent all the horror from becoming too much. As Telby watches as his coworkers fall one by one to a mysterious murderer, he is forced to examine what he is doing and the morality of the job he has taken, the morality of those around him, and though I am not entirely sure what I think about the ending, Telby ends this novel consumed by a metaphysical sorrow that he did not entirely earn through his actions but has to experience nonetheless.
With my brief synopsis of this intense plot out of the way, the only way I can truly show you what McDonald is about is through text samples. Even as this novel hinges on modifying living animals into furniture, where, still living, they serve as settees and footstools and stands for televisions, there is so much humor, high ridiculousness, and an almost gentle sadness that it is a marvel that McDonald managed to pull it off.
Here’s one of the first passages I highlighted, and it’s an important one because it explains the title of this book. Ravenski evidently suffered some sort of breakdown after beginning to work for Pet Furnishings, but when she returned, she moved on quickly from her difficulties (likely caused from having to saw off dogs’ legs and similar).
She returned to Pet Furnishings and took a post on the executive board. It was she who was responsible for the Automatic Safe Dog. They developed a microchip that you could puncture through the dog’s skull; ‘With the chip of a mallet, the dog has a habit.’ The chip was studded into the dog’s motor cortex and pet sofas and divans were made automatic and safe so they didn’t howl, bite, shit or piss until programmed at preset intervals. This made for not just safer but cleaner furnishings. Our customers forever complained of the times their mutt would whine to be let out, just when they needed to pet it or love it or sit down for a cup of tea, and then they’d have to deal with the inevitable mud in the castors or dew in the tassels. But Ravenski changed all that with her bold new ideas and leapt up the career ladder, far away from the ‘real’ people.
This is some twitchy prose, gentle reader. Yet I struggled through horribleness like this – people making sentient animals into furniture and still being so craven that they resent the basic care their living divan upon which they settle their pampered asses requires in order to stay alive – because I hoped that the level of detail McDonald was giving this dystopia meant the novel would have some greater purpose than just inflicting such wretched details on the reader. My patience was ultimately rewarded, but this is an example of the careless cruelty that you will find in this book.