BookBrowse Reviews The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Dogs of Littlefield

by Suzanne Berne

The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne X
The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2017, 288 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A novel that reveals the discontent concealed behind the manicured lawns and picket fences of darkest suburbia.

I was surprised to learn, upon perusing the copyright page of American author Suzanne Berne's new novel, The Dogs of Littlefield, that it had actually been published in the United Kingdom three years earlier. It makes a sort of sense – one of Berne's previous novels, A Crime in the Neighborhood, is a previous winner of the Orange Prize, one of the most prestigious UK literary awards, now called the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. But this novel satirizing a privileged American suburb just feels so...American.

Fictional Littlefield, Massachusetts, is the kind of town that epitomizes the American Dream. Located within commuting distance of Boston, populated largely by college professors, investment bankers, psychotherapists, and their well-adjusted children; home to well-preserved older houses, leafy streets, good schools, a cozy diner, and a popular park, Littlefield has recently landed on one of those round-ups of the best places to live in America. Which is why it's come to the attention of sociocultural anthropologist Clarice Watkins of the University of Chicago, who until recently has spent her whole career researching communities in crisis that are victims of global destabilization. What, Dr. Watkins wonders, must it feel like to live in a town like Littlefield, where "good quality of life" trumps global destabilization?

Within days of Dr. Watkins's arrival, though, Littlefield erupts in a crisis of its own making. A vigorous and contentious public debate about the pros and cons of allowing dogs off-leash in the city park has pitted neighbors against one another, a tense situation that escalates quickly when the bullmastiff owned by local novelist George Wechsler turns up dead, the victim of an apparent poisoning. As the canine body count rises over the next several months, so do Dr. Watkins's opportunities to observe the residents of Littlefield in their natural habitat, gaining invitations to their dinner parties, book clubs, bar mitzvahs, and birthday parties, and eventually learning more about these suburban denizens than they may even know about themselves.

Central to Dr. Watkins's observations are the Downings – Margaret, Bill, and their daughter Julia. At first glance, the Downings seem like the ideal family: Bill is a successful investment banker, and Margaret is a former music teacher who now stays home with Julia, who plays oboe and soccer in middle school. Even their dog, Binx, is adorable. But, as in Littlefield itself, there are more than a few chinks in the Downings' well-constructed armor, imperfections that become more and more apparent as the latest Littlefield crisis inspires suspicions, betrayals, and profound mistrust.

What does "good quality of life" mean? Are people's own problems largely just distortions of perception? Do comfort and complacence always go hand in hand? These are questions that run through The Dogs of Littlefield, questions that form the focus of Dr. Watkins's investigations, but will eventually be shared by the novel's readers as well. However, this isn't just a novel of ideas; Berne's scrutiny of upper-middle-class suburbia is also grounded in specific scenes that offer rich fodder for satire: a town meeting, a dinner party, and a book group (particularly ironic since Berne's novel itself is more than likely to spark heated discussion at countless book groups). Frequently hilarious, always intriguing, Berne's foray into the dining rooms and psychotherapy offices of Littlefield will prompt readers to look anew at their own aspirations and relationships.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl

This review was originally published in February 2016, and has been updated for the January 2017 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: And The Ocean Was Our Sky
    And The Ocean Was Our Sky
    by Patrick Ness
    Patrick Ness has developed a reputation for experimental literature executed well, and his latest, ...
  • Book Jacket: Let It Bang
    Let It Bang
    by RJ Young
    Every interracial love story is an exercise in complications. R.J. Young and Lizzie Stafford's ...
  • Book Jacket: A Spark of Light
    A Spark of Light
    by Jodi Picoult
    The central premise of A Spark of Light involves a gunman holding hostages within the confines of a ...
  • Book Jacket: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
    An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
    by Hank Green
    As one half of the extremely popular YouTube duo "Vlogbrothers" (the other half being his brother ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Unsheltered
by Barbara Kingsolver

A timely novel that explores the human capacity for resiliency and compassion.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Paris Echo
    by Sebastian Faulks

    A story of resistance, complicity, and an unlikely, transformative friendship.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Kinship of Secrets
    by Eugenia Kim

    Two sisters grow up bound by family but separated by war; inspired by a true story.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Severance

Severance by Ling Ma

An offbeat, wryly funny, apocalyptic satire that is featured on more than twenty 2018 "Must Read" lists!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Ain't O U T F L S

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.