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by Carol Emshwiller
Category: Fantasy/Science Fiction
Description: In this dangerous and sharp-eyed look at men, women, and the world we live in, everything is changing: women are turning into animals, and animals are turning into women. Pooch, a golden setter, is turning into a beautiful woman--although she still has some of her canine traits: she just can't shuck that loyalty thing--and her former owner has turned into a snapping turtle. When the turtle tries to take a bite of her own baby, Pooch snatches the baby and runs. Meanwhile, there's a dangerous wolverine on the loose, men are desperately trying to figure out what's going on, and Pooch discovers what she really wants: to sing Carmen.
eBook Publisher: Small Beer Press/Peapod Classics, 1990 1990
eBookwise Release Date: February 2006
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [241 KB]
Reading time: 162-227 min.
"A first novel that combines the cruel humor of Candide with the allegorical panache of Animal Farm.... There has not been such a singy combination of imaginative energy, feminist outrage, and sheer literary muscle since Joanna Russ's classic The Female Man. "--Entertainment Weekly
"An inspired feminist fable.... A wise and funny book."--The New York Times
"Her fantastic premise allows Emshwiller canny and frequently hilarious insights into the damaging sex-role stereotypes both men and women perpetuate."--Publishers Weekly
"Carol is the most unappreciated great writer we've got. Carmen Dog ought to be a classic in the colleges by now ... It's so funny, and it's so keen."--Ursula K. Le Guin, author of Changing Planes
"Pure essence of Emshwiller. Only she could have taken the women's movement, opera, and a wolverine and come up with such enchantment."--Connie Willis, author of Passage
"One of my favorite books! Funny, ironic, and wonderfully true in its consideration of women and other animals."--Pat Murphy, author of There and Back Again
"With Carmen Dog, Carol Emshwiller takes her place beside Mikhail Bulgakov and his great social satire, Heart of a Dog. She is one of the premiere fantasists working today, and her fiction is always more than the sum of the parts."--Gregory Frost, author of Fitcher's Brides
"This trenchant feminist fantasy-satire mixes elements of Animal Farm, Rhinoceros and The Handmaid's Tale.... Imagination and absurdist humor mark [Carmen Dog] throughout, and Emshwiller is engaging even when most savage about male-female relationships."--Booklist
"The novel asks, in the most humorous way imaginable, where we might be as a civilization without our pets and sacrificial caretakers. The humor helps disguise the horrific implications, but never is the bite taken from the dog."--Strange Horizons
"The beast changes to a woman or the woman changes to a beast," the doctor says. "In her case it is certainly the latter since she has been, on the whole, quite passable as a human being up to the present moment. There may be hundreds of these creatures already among us. No way to tell for sure how many."
The husband feigns surprise. Actually he's seen more than he's telling, and right in his own home.
"But they are, it is clear, here among us now in many varied forms and already voicing strange opinions: some in love with water, rain, the tides; breathing heavily (as she does); while others quite the opposite, more like birds or foxes. Yesterday I saw one I thought quite like a giant sloth, upside down in the lower branches of a tree. Some are, you know, on the way up, others the reverse. As I said: woman to beast, beast to woman, and not much point to it all it seems to me. Marcus Aurelius wrote, and I quote: 'Is the ball itself bettered by its upward flight? Is it any worse as it comes down?' When did you first suspect your wife?"
"...her mouth grown wide, lips dark, her eyes suspicious. She smells--I don't know--like something from a marsh. Has become irritable. More so than usual. Whimpers. Drops things. Or, on the other hand, like a snapping turtle, sometimes won't let go. Drinks too much...."
"Of course all this would be perfectly normal in a woman twice her age, but since she's only thirty-four, I think it's a good idea to see a psychotherapist at once, both of you. You say she was a fairly good wife and mother, though somewhat irritating at times, and you want her back that way as soon as possible? You must realize, however, that she is at this very moment in a period of profound change, both physical and psychological. Be surprised at nothing. To my mind it is as if they all had eaten an apple from the tree of a different kind of knowledge and have seen with new eyes, not that they are naked, but have seen that they are clothed."
What the doctor doesn't mention is how many similar cases he's seen and just how far some of them have progressed. He doesn't realize that the husband wouldn't be a bit surprised, that the husband realizes from personal experience that some of the women are already talking in grunts (if at all), while others, who used to speak only in guttural mutterings, are now mouthing long, erudite words such as teleological, hymenopterology, omphalos, and quagmire.
Christine, for instance, red-headed, plump Christine, who had several times been taken for an orangutan, can now argue her way out of any zoo no matter what the educational level of the keepers. Mona, on the other hand, can almost fly (though it is unlikely that she ever really will). Her husband complains that she makes funny noises, but her children like her all the better for it. John is divorcing Lucille in order to marry Betty (quite bearish still, but evidently what John wants). Mabel has only recently been given a name at all.
This is not the case with Pooch, who has had a name from the start and who now finds herself taking over more and more of the housework and baby-sitting, yet continues to be faithful. Her mistress is deteriorating rapidly--mouth grown wide, eyes suspicious. Her master (the man who visited the doctor, as mentioned a moment ago) has tried all the experts he can afford and they are now, both of them, in psychotherapy, as the doctor recommended, but it looks as though the marriage can't last.
In other homes, similar dramas are playing themselves out in various ways. A guinea pig named Cucumber (because of her shape, and sometimes affectionately referred to as "Pickle"), although not very smart, is taking over several of the easier tasks in the house next door. Cucumber has spoken to Pooch on several occasions, but Pooch finds it hard to be with her because she feels that she, Pooch, needs to hold herself back. Sometimes she feels she'd like to grab hold of Cucumber by the back of the neck and give her a good shake. And for no reason. Phillip, the king snake down the block, has turned out to be female after all, as has Humphrey the iguana. Neither of them, it is clear, has much maternal instinct, though, and they were last seen heading south on Route 95 with not so much as a good-bye kiss to the little ones who had watched over them tenderly, albeit not very consistently.
On the other hand, Pooch is doing the best she can for her foster family. (The mistress has taken to drink and sleeps a good bit of the day, but bites out viciously if provoked. Not that she hasn't done something of the sort to some degree all her life, but before it had usually been a quick slap.) Pooch now does the shopping as well as the laundry, diapering, and much of the cooking, though she is hardly as old as the oldest child she's looking after. Pooch, who had always been smiling and playful, now has become serious and sad, watching over everything with her big, golden-brown, color-blind eyes.
The psychologist has counseled patience and forbearance on the part of the family toward the mistress, wife, and mother. Pooch, who has never been patient, realizes the importance of this and conducts herself with a quiet dignity far beyond her years--always her mouth half open, always a little breathless. It's not unattractive.
Lately she has been yearning to see the psychologist herself. After all, it is she who has taken on more of the burdens of the family than could ever have been expected. But a visit is out of the question: the therapy is already straining the family's finances to the limit, even though the therapist is giving them a discount and the first few months were paid for by insurance. But at last the day comes when the psychologist himself asks to see Pooch. He has, no doubt, come to realize that she is a key figure in the dynamics of this tormented nuclear family and that she is probably the most stable element in it.
He understands a lot of things about her just by looking. Right away he senses her suffering (how she sits, demure, her arms around herself, held in, or rather, held together). And right away he guesses that she has been dependent all her life. Guesses, also, that there was some sort of break with her mother at an early age (how her hands hover around her mouth, her bitten nails), and that her toilet training may have been inordinately severe, possibly involving corporal punishment (her guilty look and the fact that, at first, she cannot talk to him at all). Of course these are only conjectures.
He asks her for her dreams. She remembers only a short one of rabbits. He asks her about her hopes and fears.... And has she no ambitions, no hobbies, no interests beyond the immediate family? It seems not. He asks about her youthful indiscretions. She says, None, but what she doesn't tell him is her sudden guilty yet happy memory of having pulled woolen caps and mittens off the heads and hands of small children or grabbing the fringe of their scarves. At the end of the session he tells her to do something for herself every day, if only just one small thing: take half an hour off to do something she wants to do, eat a tidbit of a favorite food, buy a small, inexpensive gift for herself, or perhaps even something expensive. Play a game of frisbee. This is orders, he says, doctor's orders.
Psychologically he cannot be sure that he is giving her the proper advice. It is clear that Pooch has always wanted to be of service to mankind in any way that she possibly can. From the general look of her, he guesses that her retrieving instincts are strong and that she might be passionately interested in swimming. Perhaps she can have no other joys but these.