The blurb: Kalb Ward slaughters dogs for the Colony, a closed, dystopian society where resources are tight, free speech is nonexistent, and those in power have eyes and ears everywhere. Ward desperately wants to quit his grisly job, but he knows he’ll be arrested, or worse, if he tries.
In the Colony, a citizen’s future is determined by a placement exam. Score high, and you’re set for life. Score low, and you end up living a nightmare–like Ward.
Li Ling, the love of Ward’s youth, scored high, and she’s a local celebrity now, far out of his reach. Meanwhile, his neighbor’s son is making a series of disastrous decisions as his own exam rapidly approaches.
Can Ward bridge the social divide and win back Li Ling? Can he help the neighbor’s son avoid a future as grim as his own? Can he escape the Colony’s oppressive rule and, if he’s very lucky, bring down the whole horrific system in the process?
You know what they say: Every dog has his day.
And Ward’s day is coming.
The review: For a story about someone who slaughters dogs for a living, this really is an elegantly written book. The prose in Dog Meat is simple and direct, much like Ward, the dog slaughterer at the heart of it.
He’s a quiet and frustrated citizen of The Colony, a grim and dystopian society where freedom of speech is nonexistent and everyone’s every move is monitored closely. He spends his afternoons and evenings round the back of a restaurant, killing dogs that will be cooked and eaten inside. This constant killing is starting to affect him, so one day he decides to simply jump over the wall and go. He doesn’t get very far before state soldiers turn up to arrest him and take him away for ‘re-educating’. Otherwise known as hard labour.
Ward’s life is small and insular. He’s dirt poor and other than his terrible job, all he has is his mother who visits once a week and his neighbour Lam, for whom he has a soft spot, and her useless son. Ward can see this boy heading for the same grisly existence as himself, and so tries his best to intervene. Also on the periphery of Ward’s radar is Li Ling, the voice of the state broadcaster and his old school friend. At some point their lives converged, with her path leading to success and adoration. And his? Well…
It’s all very bleak, but as I said at the start, that bleakness belies the beautiful storytelling. Because, yes, this book really is beautiful, and I found myself utterly captivated by Priscilla Bettis’s style. And despite his introverted nature, you can’t help but warm to Ward as a protagonist. He’s a tortured man, acutely aware that, were it not for a single stroke of bad luck, his life could have turned out so differently. And yet he’s not completely without hope.
Ultimately, Dog Meat is about human life, in all its glorious complexity, being ground under the boot of a brutal and oppressive regime. It’s about lives and dreams and potential lost. And it’s about the beauty of the human spirit, and how it finds hope in the unlikeliest of places. In that sense, Dog Meat is a real feast.
The author: Priscilla Bettis read her first horror story, The Exorcist, when she was a little kid. She snuck the book from her parents’ den. The Exorcist scared Priscilla silly, and she was hooked on the power of the horror genre from that moment on.
Priscilla is an excellent swimmer, which is good because vampires are terrible swimmers.
Priscilla shares a home in the Northern Plains of Texas with her two-legged and four-legged family members.
Dog Meat by Priscilla Bettis is available from Amazon.