Text, $32.95 pb, 293 pp
Writing as Eva Sallis, Eva Hornung earned enough prizes and shortlistings to send a reviewer sprinting shame-faced to the nearest library. Fortunately, Joyce Carol Oates, with her inordinately prodigious output, sees no grounds for guilt: ‘Each book is a world unto itself, and must stand alone and it should not matter whether a book is a writer’s first, or tenth, or fiftieth.’ Thus, while a predilection for wild life might be deduced from some of Sallis-Hornung’s previous titles (The City of Sea-lions, 2002, The Marshbirds, 2005) and an Arabic orientation from others (Hiam, 1998, Sheherazade through the Looking Glass, 1999), Dogboy, which is set in Moscow, begs to stand on its own hind legs.
The formulation is not as facetious as it sounds. In fact, it suggests the ambivalence lying at the heart of this new version of the familiar myth of boys brought up by, with and as canines. (No doubt girls are not in the picture because this universal folk tale revolves around the exposure of a hero and his miraculous survival.) The earliest version is probably the best known: in the eighth century BCE, the false king Amulius had the wife of Numitor, the man he had deposed, imprisoned and her twin boys put in a chest which was thrown into the Tiber. Washed ashore near the Palatine Hill, Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf until they were found and brought up by a herdsman and his wife. Grown up, they deposed Amulius, restored Numitor, and built a city on the place where as babies they had washed up. The rest is (Roman) history.