The Gentleman Recommends: Kirsten Bakis

Posted on Monday, May 14, 2018 by Chris

It’s neat when a novel reminds you of the practically limitless possibilities of fiction. It’s also neat when it reminds you of the practically limitless possibilities of reality. If you’d like to be reminded that one can not only write a fictional account of a race of super-intelligent monster dogs, but that, given the time, brilliance, resources (robot arms, 19th century Prussian fashion, etc.) and willingness to ignore a slew of ethical concerns, one might even create a race of super-intelligent monster dogs, read “Lives of the Monster Dogs” by Kirsten Bakis.

Lives of Monster Dogs book cover

As a gentleman who is nearly as enthusiastic about dogs as I am about cravats and monocles, Bakis’ debut novel seems engineered to appeal to me. But while there are plenty of dogs dressed in the fashion of 19th century Prussian aristocrats, there is also a fair bit of animal murder, human murder and gruesome experimentation. One cannot build a race of dog soldiers without first trying and failing to attach wings to a squirrel or swapping the rear and front legs of an unfortunate cow. So, a century before the monster dogs make their home in Manhattan, Augustus Rank experiments wildly on all sorts of critters. Fortunately for the reader, rather than follow this path to its natural culmination of serial killing, Rank begins to achieve success and earns a patron. His patron funds him, and eventually, as an adult, Rank sets up an outpost in the Canadian wilderness where he can nurture a cult, mandate that the cult maintains 19th century Prussian customs, and continue to follow his dream of creating a race of dog super soldiers complete with robot arms and robot voice boxes. Though he dies before achieving his goal (but not before promising he would return from the dead when the time was right), his followers eventually complete his goal for him.

Some of the dogs grow weary of being enslaved and rebel. After the ensuing bloodbath, they relocate to Manhattan. They are received as celebrities, in part because they are talking dogs that are dressed real fancy, and in part because they are absurdly wealthy due to the jewels hoarded by their deceased masters.

A graduate student named Cleo benefits from the sort of outrageous luck afforded to nearly every graduate student in our country and receives exclusive access to some of the monster dogs. She achieves a level of success that allows (perhaps forces) her to drop out of both waitressing and school.

Unfortunately, while the monster dogs initially mature at the same rate as humans, they eventually age much more rapidly. As the dogs make contingency plans for their dotage, the drama ramps up, finally culminating in the longest, weirdest, and eventually scariest party put to page.

The book is compiled by Cleo and consists of her narration, journal entries from some of the monster dogs, journal entries from the monster man who created them, and an opera written by one of the more literary dogs. It’s a great book, and an excellent reminder that one can write about anything, and that while one might be capable of achieving nearly anything, perhaps one shouldn’t mutilate and kill a slew of animals with the aim of creating a race of monster dog super soldiers.