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Dog Horse Rat, by Christopher Davis

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First published by Viking, 1990
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His daughter dead by his own folly, Shakespeare's King Lear carries her corpse and cries, "Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life / And thou no breath at all?"

The novel addresses Lear's question.

Set in the early 1970s in a poor upstate New York county—a world of mobile homes, teenage marriages, unemployment, and the vacation "camps" of the well-off—this novel is about Royal West, 22, and his older brother Van, an angry and disturbed Vietnam vet. Surprised in the midst of a burglary of the summer home of a professor from Connecticut, Van, with Royal at his side, kills the professor's son. Told from Royal's point of view, it is the story of criminals who cannot allow themselves to get away with their crime. A Dostoyevskian tale of crime, punishment and ethical nihilism, it is also the story of the rebirth of a conscience and a will—of responsibility.

Click here to read an excerpt from Dog Horse Rat

Click here to read an excerpt from the 2007 book Working Words, Creative Reading, Writing, and Teaching by Christopher Davis.

Citation for the Career Award from The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters:

"In ten novels, a book for children, a play, and two works of nonfiction, Christopher Davis has built a career that comes to a marvelous reckoning in his most recent novel Dog Horse Rat. This is a moving study of post-Vietnam voices and the spell of randomness and acceptable violence under which we've lately fallen. In all of his books, Mr. Davis is a master of the quietly engineered sentence. His prose is a form of plainsong that disguises the sophistication of his method but never the breadth of his understanding and compassion."

May 15, 1991

Selected Comments and Review Quotes:

"A startling American pastoral that rocks and shocks in the manner of Flannery O'Connor...In language that is pure, plain, and swift, Christopher Davis chronicles the unpeaceable kingdom of a pair of brothers who become murderers almost at random."

—Cynthia Ozick, author

"An expert piece of work on every level."

—Don Delillo, author

"A perfectly controlled book about young men desperately seeking control. [It] has the depth of generations of sorrow and bravado striking sparks against each other and the pervasive schizophrenia of the enclosed life of the American underclass."

—Carolyn See, LA Times

"The artistry of novelist Christopher Davis is one of the secrets of contemporary American fiction."

—Don Gold, Chicago Sun-Times

"Rarely does a contemporary writer display a mastery of conventions both traditional and modern; suffice it to say that Davis knows his Henry James as well as his Shakespeare...impeccably rendered description... perfectly conceived and executed plot...a symbolic slice of the Middle American pie."

—David Bradley, The Pennsylvania Gazette

"A stark sharp tale [that] burrows inside the minds of its two protagonists, reducing them to their grim, dim anarchic cores...DOG HORSE RAT is about guilt and a sort of shadowy redemption, It's about the intractable bonds of brotherhood, and the intractable pulls of conscience. It's about shattered, aimless lives...It is a story about what we inherit in our bloodlines, and what we struggle to make our own."

—Philadelphia Inquirer