Tell it to the Dog, A Memoir of Sorts by Robert Power
Transit Lounge, 2017. ISBN 9780995359505
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. This remarkable collection of stories is often deeply emotionally disturbing, yet it is one of the most beautifully composed reflections on life that I have read. Subtitled a 'memoir of sorts', he includes mostly very short tales, his use of 'memoir' suggesting some degree of ownership.
Using poignant quotations from famous writers to begin each chapter, Power further subtitles each short reflection to reflect these words in the telling of the stories. Some stories appear to be his own, told by 'the boy' in the first person, some in the second person but about himself, and some about what he has observed. Power uses these distinct narrative forms, while always inferring a personal history. The separation of the narrator from himself, told in this way, seems to enable him to reveal the often dark side of the life he has lived, and thus explores his reflections on that life and on the lives of others. He infers the intimate details of those lives that he has observed, sparingly told at times, while at other times revealed in greater depth.
His skill in holding our attention through both the lighter and the deeply emotional stories is evident as he switches between holding us gently in the lighter tales then plunging us into the dramatic, dark stories. He appears to draw us into his own life in some stories, yet at other times he takes us briefly into the lives of others, in sad stories. He controls every narrative tightly, telling only the bare short story in some, keeping to a brief 10 lines. Deliberately varying the story-telling method, he creates some stories as told through personal observation, while others are told through impersonal observation, and some by reflection. At other times he composes a more regular, short but complex narrative. The presence of pain is a recurring theme, and violence is often subtly inferred, yet at other times it is brutally described.
Power's lyrical, captivating style seems to demand a recognition of the presence of troubling human emotions. He moves continents, time and theme, in revealing the sense of loss, hurt, and dislocation in the reality of the characters, be that of his own life or that of others. One of the reflections, 'In the Shadows', under the chapter heading that refers to 'happy families', that, he writes, according to George Bernard Shaw would suggest 'an earlier heaven', features a boy who states that he would 'scratch his face' to prove his statement, both shockingly suggesting that we might otherwise not believe his words and that the violence he endures is implied in the option of the self-harm!