Thank You to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an advanced copy of Suzanne Berne's The Dogs of Littlefield, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT - The quaint town of Littlefield, Massachusetts is hailed as one of the "Top Ten Best Places to Live in America," attracting the attention of sociologist, Dr. Clarice Watkins, who has moved in to see if Littlefield meets its lofty title. Dr. Watkins arrives wondering how the abnormally high number of local psychologist affects the town's psyche, but she is soon captivated by a mystery that is plaguing Littlefield. Who is poisoning Littlefield's dogs? Is this postcard perfect town actually happy? And for that matter, what does it even mean to be happy and/or successful?
LIKE- Berne masterfully begins her story with the mystery of the poisoned dogs and a town divided over turning part of a local park into a dog park. This conflict immediately drew me into the story, but without notice, the themes shift from the dogs, to the humans of Littlefield. Berne uses the dogs as a bridge to the owners and it's so subtle, that I didn't even notice the trick.
The Dogs of Littlefield, shifts between close-third perspectives of several main characters, Berne's focus is on deep characterizations and interpersonal conflicts. At the heart of the story is Margaret, a woman in a struggling marriage, who has an affair with a neighbor. Margaret's teenage daughter, Julia, is having difficulties fitting in at school and her parent's troubles are compounding the issue. These are deeply unhappy characters, who keep their sadness internalized, maintaining perfect appearances. The character of Dr. Watkins serves as a type of Greek chorus, making her observations and commentary on the people of Littlefield.
I liked the themes of the story, which include examining what it means to be happy and the hysteria over "First World Problems" in a town that seems to have it all.
DISLIKE- A very minor complaint that some of the characters are less interesting than others. There are so many towns people, that occasionally, I had trouble remembering the minor characters when they would reappear.
RECOMMEND- Yes! Berne is a fantastic writer. If you enjoy books that are heavier on characters, rather than plot, add The Dogs of Littlefield to your shelf. Berne is a "new-to-me" author and I look forward to reading more of her stories.