MEN AND DOGS by Katie Crouch

Oh, Katie Crouch. She always sucks me in, with her keen observations and dark humor and flawed characters whom I always have hope for, despite all evidence to the contrary. I keep coming back to her, even though I am never satisfied at the end.

CrouchI just read Men and Dogs, the second Crouch novel I’ve read (the other was Girls in Trucks, reviewed here). Unlike Girls in Trucks, Men and Dogs follows a linear plot. It’s about Hannah, a married San Francisco woman in her 30s whose husband has finally kicked her out after her serial adultery. She returns home to Charleston, where her mother and older brother still live. Her father had disappeared when she was 9 in a mysterious boating incident that was never resolved.

Hannah, like Sarah, the protagonist in Girls in Trucks, is emotionally stunted, stemming from the disappearance of her father and her inability to accept his death. Her ex-boyfriend (with whom she also connects in Charleston) points out that despite her monogamy issues, she’s the most faithful person she knows – she’s faithful to the memory of her father and the hope that he is still alive somewhere.

I like Crouch’s writing, a lot. It’s relatively sparse but funny and real. Her characters are generally memorable and realistic. But in the end, Men and Dogs just didn’t do it for me. I found Hannah a bit exasperating – she was self-absorbed and selfish and incapable of anticipating the effects of her actions on others. By the end, I really didn’t care about what happened – with her marriage, her failing business, or the resolution of her father’s death. I think Hannah’s inability to care about her own life rubbed off on me – I stopped caring too.

I enjoyed the Charleston setting, and I liked Hannah’s gay commitment-phobic brother Palmer.

In an interview at the end of the book, Crouch said that she likes creating poorly behaved characters – ones who are “absolute wrecks” – so that she doesn’t have to be poorly behaved in her own life. I found that interesting, but for me, I don’t find reading about her characters liberating. Instead, I find it kind of stressful and ultimately not enjoyable.

I’d give Katie Crouch another chance – I think – but the first two haven’t been my favorites.

Oh, hello FTC! Men and Dogs was purchased with my own hard-earned cash. No payola here (or ever).