Review: ‘Dogs of Summer’ by Andrea Abreu

Dogs of Summer

Dogs of Summer is, primarily, a tale of self-effacing obsession. It follows two ten-year-old girls, Isora and her admirer, the nameless narrator. Bearing only the affectionate moniker given to her by her friend, “Shit” makes it her aim to ripen into all other girl’s wants, limiting her actions to shadow the manipulations of her heart.

But as the “boiling” summer air aggravates both their lethargy and wrested passions, thoughts of cataclysms — physical and emotional — suffuse itching psyches.

From the start, we’re presented with a grove of fiery, smarting figures. With the girls’ world limited to their upsloping neighborhood in northern Tenerife, its inhabitants appear both spirited and ancient. The prose itself is written with a levity that only enhances the shock value of certain events, blending cheek with humor to mask the taint of calamity.

This agility undoubtedly points to Julia Sanches’ masterful translation. Between its lines, the island’s clouds and rampant wilderness converge to boil several tragedies, from depression to eating disorders.

Shit possesses a uniquely childlike voice, which comes across as both charming and earnest; a mixture that allows her obsession to crackle and fizz to the edge of ruination. In fact, every voice appears bodied, transfused with a unique blend of the Canary dialect and phonetically recorded English, in turn creating a strong sense of place.

Abreu’s use of bachata lyrics also introduces elements of absurdism that frame, and enhance, the local lingo. With these speech patterns fleshed out, prose and backchat seep into each other, allowing dialogue to both float and remain bitterly tethered to the page. Naturally, this calls for a more general lack of restraint. Shit’s thoughts seesaw, slip and slide with abandon, pile on top of each other.

And, in a thrilling show of nullifying taboos, Abreu allows the girls to act on their natural fixation with erotic self-exploration. The innocence spoiled with splotches of shame proves just as true-to-life. In fact, the text doesn’t twiddle its thumbs when it comes to seizing the smells and throbbing sensations of a pubescent body ablaze, with its needs unfazed by either time or place.

Likewise, Shit’s inability to process an unexpected penetration, and her consequent impulse to dissociate from the memory, is so accurate in its portrayal that the words reach inside, and unnerve, the body drinking them in. Doggedly, Shit puts Isora’s well-being above her own. She depends on the girl wholly, from the emotional plane to the practical; a way of being that aids and aggravates her mania.

Her affection incites violent thoughts because half of her lives inside Isora, and of that part she intuitively assumes ownership. Her drawn-out, emotional daze provokes a certain obliteration of the adored object — or, in this case, subject. This roughness takes on even more grit by mixing with all the other forms of violence the kids have to contend with daily.

The most glaring example is the cultural oppression imposed on the young, from weight control to mauling beauty standards. In this respect, Isora’s abusive grandmother proves just as formidable as their friend’s grandfather, who flogs the young boy with a belt for the “faggoty” act of playing with dolls. 

And so, with the mildest of touches, Abreu demonstrates the stunting acts of brutality that shape us, creating intimate strangers — corporal dichotomies. With much of the story immersed in tragedy, Dogs of Summer doesn’t make for the lightest of reads. And yet, while Shit’s lack of control leads to the inevitable atrophy of volition, her devotion remains pure and uninvolved until the end.

Maintaining a certain passiveness, she experiences the world as any child would, having learned not to impose herself on it. Shit’s understanding of time draws on the position of the sun in the sky. People and objects gain their dimensions from her own diminutive stature. She indulges in games that mirror the elusive realm of adults, into which she has no access and in which her feelings and concerns are largely flouted.

The cataclysm of her emotional upheaval finds its echo in the island’s wilderness, fusing the prick of pine needles with the steamy belch of a volcano, giving birth to the kind of anguish that pushes at the seams of her slight body. The result is as crippling as Abreu’s talent proves understated.

Publication date: August 2, 2022 (Astra Publishing House)

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