Tom Strelich’s new novel, Dog Logic, is a continuation of the story of Hertell Daggett, your friendly neighborhood pet-cemetery caretaker, whose memory of much of the history of all space and time — due to an accidental head injury — provides charmingly dark comedy to the play version of the same name where Hertell’s story began.
The novel follows Hertell’s discovery of an underground civilization, put in place by the Kennedy administration before the end of the Cold War as an escape for what was supposed to be the nuclear-induced end of the world. The people of the civilization, called the Generations, have lived in tunnels under the earth since the ’60s and have all the trappings to go with that period: cat-eye glasses, age-related hierarchies, and ardent Christian beliefs.
It all makes for some pretty quirky, funny material, but Strelich tends to meander on long swaths of side stories, which add some comedy but nonetheless unravel the plot so that we’ve forgotten what was happening by the time the main thread finally resurfaces. Though the writing is vivid and detailed, the frequent flits between location and character would lend themselves more easily to film, which can actually deliver the type of punchy and comedic quick changes in scenery that Strelich seems to be going for.
All the same, Dog Logic is juicy with a Wes Anderson–like use of unusual locations (what other novel have you read that is set in the foothills of Bakersfield?) and approach to lackadaisical violence, which, combined with the new-civilization-from-the-’60s thing, render the book charmingly podunk and surprisingly worthwhile.