By Gwendolyn Dawson
Thomas Pletzinger’s imaginative novel, Funeral for a Dog, proceeds on two parallel planes. One plane is inhabited by the present-day diary entries of German journalist/ethnographer Daniel Mandelkern recording a brief visit to the Italian lakeside home of reclusive children’s book author Dirk Svensson. The other plane consists of Svensson’s previously-written memoir about his travels through New York City at the time of the September 11th terrorist attacks and through remote regions of Brazil. As Mandelkern attempts to draw enough material out of Svensson for a 3,000-word profile piece, he gradually loses hold over his original purpose and, further encouraged by his discovery of Svensson’s memoir in a locked suitcase, perseverates on his own personal crisis:
“I’m lying between books and people, between words and bodies. My language is of no use for decisions, each word is only true for a few seconds, then it dries and turns to paper …. Svensson has decided on things: he lives in a ruin, now he chops the old wood, he jumps in the clear, reliable water. Is that how one should live (is that how I should live)?”
Funeral for a Dog is many things. It’s a novel about parallel searches for identity and meaning, a recording of the events of a five-day house party, a mystery about the death of a friend, and a chronicle of the slow decline of an elderly, three-legged dog. Scenes peppered with the funhouse imagery of carousels, roller coasters, and cotton candy alternate with those filled with dark foreboding.
In Funeral for a Dog, Pletzinger delivers a challenging and innovative novel that asks more questions than it answers as it wallows in the kind of directionless seeking that has become a hallmark of postmodern fiction. This puzzle of a novel is filled with echoes, repetitions, and reflections, which are carefully preserved by Benjamin’s adept translation.
In a Mobius-worthy trick, the last page of the novel loops right back to the first page. Rather than leading towards clarity, Funeral for a Dog proves clarity is an illusion. This high-energy read will frustrate some readers, but those willing to commit to the journey will be rewarded with an intelligent and creative portrayal of the intermingling of love and loss, life and death.
Funeral for a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger (translated by Ross Benjamin) is published in the United States by Norton.
Gwendolyn Dawson is the founder of Literary License.