Saturday, May 4, 2024

A Dog's Tale by Ralph Protsik

by Ralph Protsik
Beaconsfield Press
Young Adult Fiction
246 pages

A beautifully told, disturbing, yet ultimately hopeful fable that lingers.

In a gloomy, dank forest in Transylvania, a lonely, homeless dog meets a frightening stranger who challenges him to reevaluate his life. He is 5 or 6 years old, and the only name he has ever had is “Dog.” He has lived with several masters, some kind, others terribly cruel. But now he is on his own, he hasn’t had anything to eat for days, and he is cold, without hope. Perhaps it’s time for him to succumb to starvation and end his misery. Then a tall, dark figure, dressed all in black, approaches him. The stranger “Good dog. Don’t be frightened.” Dog wonders how he can understand these words? Dog can converse only with animals, and this figure looks human. The man “Just say I live in the shadows between the worlds of the living and the dead. I cannot die, but the life I lead is one of anguish.” Readers soon realize that the man is a vampire. Dog begs him to take him with him, but the man “You’ve suffered a great deal in your life—I can tell that—but I’m also guessing that you’ve experienced moments of happiness.” If he takes Dog with him, the man continues, the pup will be given eternal life, but one of darkness and misery, from which there is no return. It is time for Dog to decide. And so, he ponders his life thus far. He thinks about his beloved mother, and his littermates, all of whom he has now lost. He remembers the violence inflicted upon him by his first master. Chapter by chapter, Dog reviews his experiences with humans, a few who treated him with love and kindness, but all of whom have left him behind to fend for himself. There are also treasured moments with nonhuman friends, such as the Dancing Bear in the circus and the wise Old Owl. But they too are gone.

Protsik’s achingly melancholy YA narrative mixes harsh reality with a bit of Old World mysticism, lightened by moments of humor and tenderness. Simple, carefully structured prose captures Dog’s emotions and his canine understanding of the confusing, frequently dangerous human world. When the stranger in black makes a sudden move, Dog responds with a heartbreaking plea that speaks volumes about the perilous life he has been “Don’t throw stones at me. I hate it when they throw stones. I hate being kicked. Please, please. I’d be a good dog. I’d bite your enemies. Don’t hurt me.” Dog, sweet, loving, and soulful, leaps off the pages in his attempt to find a forever home. The novel, thought-provoking, insightful, and engaging, is sure to generate more than a few tears. Thankfully, there are also inspiring sections that will leave readers smiling. And one especially lovely section includes a wealth of information about wolves and the dynamics of their pack culture. However, the tale might be too unsettling for the youngest readers.

A beautifully told, disturbing, yet ultimately hopeful fable that lingers.



A potent mix of melancholy, darkness, and hope blend with a touch of fantasy to create a thought-provoking read.

Dog has had enough of life. Although he's only 5-6 years old, he's been cast away so many times and is tired of finding himself alone in a forest with nothing to eat. His wish is to simply let his pitiful life come to an end. But then, he sees a stranger approaching. Not only does this 'man' not appear to be really human, but it can understand him and speak to him. While Dog hopes this might be his new owner and home, the mysterious man tells him that to go with him, the Dog must choose to live eternally...and that is a life filled with darkness, where even happiness has no place...or embrace life with its ups and downs.

This isn't a happy, fluffy read, but one which digs deep into questions surrounding the meaning of life, especially when everything is anything but cheery and there doesn't appear to be a way out. Dog is an ideal character to draw the reader in, while adding enough distance to make the points hit home. Dog's misery is easy to connect with and understand. Not only does Dog's beginning situation draw sympathy, but the reader learns about the harsh moments he suffered as he's been cast out from one owner after the other. Nothing is sugar-coated, letting the cruelty cut into the heart. It's not a light read but allows the seriousness of life's harshness come across loud and clear.

The dark side also meets enough warmth and joy in Dog's memories to allow the main point of this read to sink in. Dog's happy memories add needed breaks from the heavier ones and give light in the darkness to propel the message forward.

To add a touch of fantasy, the entire thing takes place in Transylvania, and while it's not said right away what the 'man' is, it soon becomes clear. Having this fantasy figure, which thrives in darkness, driving Dog to consider his choice carefully adds an unexpected powerful nudge not only for the message but for the entire atmosphere of the story.

It's a well-done read, which leaves more than a little food for thought.

And here he is...

Ralph Protsik is a writer, educational publisher, and retired executive recruiter and wine educator. In addition to his three non- fiction titles, he is author of two plays, Butterfly’s Child and Kafka in China, both performed at the Berkeley Repertory School of Theatre. He has written numerous light poems and short pieces of non-fiction and was co- editor of Our Stories (Yale, 2015) and Our Stories Continued (Yale, 2020). He lives a life of quiet reflection and rigorous hiking with his wife Susan in Asheville, North Carolina.


1 comment:

Ralph Protsik said...

Proceeds from sale of A Dog's Tale will be going to the World Central Kitchen, providing relief to the people of Palestine. Available on Kindle at $9.95.