REVIEWS

Praise For Mad Dog

By Jenivieve Devries | The Bookshelf’s “Off the Shelf”

Award-winning author Kelly Watt’s first novel, Mad Dog, opens with a quote from Milton’s Paradise Lost on the nature of good and evil: “O goodness infinite, goodness immense!/That all this good of evil shall produce,/ And evil turn to good.” These lines have particular poetic resonance in a time when newscasters’ talk of a changed world and the turbulent events of recent weeks (both the terrorist attacks and the bombing of Afghanistan) have made Canadians contemplate the complex moral issues surrounding the nature of good and evil. At the heart of Watt’s startling new novel is a look at fanaticism that dangerously blurs good and evil for the perceived fulfillment of a prophesy.

 

Mad Dog tells the chilling coming-of-age story of Sheryl Anne McRae. Sixteen-year-old Sheryl Ann is set to embark on a search for the mother who abandoned her, but her daydreams of leaving are interrupted when she meets Peter Angelo Luca, a tempting blond teenager with whom Sheryl falls in love. Sheryl decides to delay leaving until she can convince Peter that they should leave for the big city together. What follows is not a simple tale of teenaged love; Mad Dog is a spellbinding and detailed account of evil forces that drive the pair into madness.

 

Much of the force of the novel comes from Watt’s construction of short, sharp scenes. These emotionally intense micro-plots are rich in everyday texture: staring at the design in the bottom of their cereal bowl during a morning altercation, or, cryptic conversations about pagan rituals during a walk in the woods. The scenes do not work to develop the larger plot, but to reveal in choppy strokes, the underlying truths of the McRae family.

 

Watt’s backdrop for the teenagers’ ill-fated relationship is a secluded orchard in the fictional Eden Valley somewhere in Southern Ontairo. Her lush and detailed scenes capture the spirit of 1964 as Sheryl Anne and Peter drift through the summer with their blue seersucker shorts, James Dean hairstyles, Nancy Drew mysteries, cigarettes rolled into shirt sleeves, and cat’s eye sunglasses. Watt weaves the cultural undercurrents of the conflicts of the Vietnam War, the race riots and student protests in the States, and the intensification of the culture of sex, drugs and rock’ n’ roll into her detailed prose. In all of these matters the young pair are both painfully aware and disastrously naïve.

Characters are built strategically. Initially all of them, except Sheryl Ann, have an impenetrable suburban semi-gloss. Her adopted family consists of her young pharmacist Uncle Fergus, his pretty, bored wife Eleanor, their chubby and mean-spirited son Josh, and Uncle Eammon who tends the orchard. The cast is rounded out with Peter, the runaway who has decided to stay to make some money by working at the orchard on his way to a career as a famous musician in the big city. We are made aware of the cosmetic and pharmaceutical products used by the characters, but the individuals themselves are obscured. It’s as if their existence necessitates so much hiding that their daytime personalities become merely a shell of Clairol and Brylcream.

Watt then strips them bare in a single moment, a turn of a page, a line of text…I did it…It was not a dream…You’re just pretending to yourself. Ironically, as the characters’ malevolent selves are exposed they become more humane. The revelation of their chilling flaws is nothing short of shocking, but the reader looks deep into the eyes of a mad dog, flogged into submission, at the depths of depravity, lying exhausted, senseless with fear and longing to be loved.

 

Jenivieve DeVries is involved in Coastline publishing, which has just published The Culinary Saga of New Iceland – available at The Bookshelf and

www.coastline-publishing.com.

By John Guise | The Hamilton Spectator

In the quiet southern Ontario town of Cedar Hollow, something weird is happening among the farms and apple orchards. Cats are being found dead, a young boy is missing, a hitchhiker appears and a family is preparing for the end of the world. That’s the plot of Mad Dog, Kelly Watt’s first novel. Watt has created a story that grabs the reader through the main character-a fourteen-year-old girl.

 

To provide insight into the mind of the girl, Watt creates a plot full of possibilities the reader can conjure up in his or her mind. The story sounds simple. It’s 1964, and Sheryl Anne MacRae, 14, is abandoned by her mother – her father is unknown – and she is living with her uncle and his family. Her uncle Fergus, Cedar Hollow’s town pharmacist and apple orchard owner is a “Renaissance man.” Sheryl isn’t really sure what a Renaissance man is, but Fergus spends a lot of time talking about the end of the world, and how the family must prepare for it. He takes a lot of pills that he brings home from his job and smokes cigarettes and marijuana.

 

Sheryl spends her days reading Nancy Drew novels and cutting out pictures of dark-haired fashion models. One of them may be her mother, Fergus says her mother is a fashion model – she was Miss Home Hardware, and lives in Toronto. Sheryl desperately wants to run there and join her.

 

One day, Fergus brings home a hitchhiker named Peter Lucas Angelo. Peter resembles James Dean, and Sheryl quickly falls in love with him. Peter wants to move to Toronto to become a folk singer and Sheryl wants to run away with him. Maybe he can help her find her mother. Fergus and Peter take an instant shine to each other and soon Peter is being initiated into Fergus’s world of mystic Christianity and drugs.

 

Sheryl is having visions of strange people making animal sacrifices and rituals with blood ad chanting. The visions only get worse when Peter is there. Are the visions psychic images as Fergus says? Are they just dreams? Or could they be a sign of something real that is happening to her family? Sheryl takes a cue from her favourite female detective, Nancy Drew, and tries to find out what exactly is happening to her and the whole MacRae family. What she finds will change her life.

 

Watt takes the reader into Sheryl’s mind using an interesting method of writing. She doesn’t use any quotation marks in her work. That makes every sentence in the book sound as if it is a though inside Sheryl’s head. The reader feels he is inside Sheryl’s mind seeing things she does and untangling the events of the story with her.

 

Watt describes Cedar Hollow as a picturesque small Ontario town shielded from the race riots, anti-Vietnam war protests and other evils that rage on in the United States in 1964, only a short drive away. But Watt does not create a plastic world. She points out there may be a hole in the façade of the perfect town.

 

The only fault of this book is that the ending unfolds too quickly. Watt resolves everything in about 15 pages when Sheryl makes a decision that changes her life forever. The ending aside, Mad Dog is a great read and Kelly Watt is a new author to watch.

By Roxanne Ward | The Globe and Mail, Canada

From the beginning of Kelly Watt’ s gripping but deeply unsettling first novel, Mad Dog, one gets the feeling that beneath the idyllic rural setting there is an ugliness to 14-year-old Sheryl-Anne MacRae’s world.

 

It is the summer of 1964 in Southern Ontario; Sheryl spends languorous days exploring fields and idly climbing trees. But her psyche seems to haunt her. she is tortured by her nightmares – horrible scenes of ritual sex and death. She feels strangely “nervous nights and Sun days,” and with the nervousness come “the voices, the pictures, the sight.”

 

Sheryl, whose mother abandoned her more than a decade ago, longs to run away and find her –to leave the family orchard where her pharmacist uncle Fergus holds court most evenings, smoking joints and popping “ magic pills” and dispensing ideas about the coming of the new world.

 

Mad Dog begins with the arrival of a young hitchhiker, Peter, a guitar-playing James Dean lookalike heading for the café scene in Toronto’s Yorkville. Fergus, who has a habit of bringing home strays, has promised to introduce him to some friends in the music business if he’ll help with this year’s harvest.

 

This is a difficult book to categorize. Of course, Sheryl-Anne falls painfully in love and looks to Peter as her possible escape. But to call this a first-love/coming-of-age story would belie the suspense and mystery that Watt so adeptly creates.

Fergus is a charismatic leader, and his family – his wife Eleanor, brothers Earl and Eammon, and Earl’s wife April – have taken to saying “amen” and “hallelujah” when he speaks. But, as the summer progresses, he becomes increasingly erratic and manipulative.

 

An award-winning short story writer, Watt sets a tone of foreboding from the start – and makes it seem as though almost every other detail is a clue. Surely it’s a portent when, at the beach, Sheryl wonders “how the water could look so beautiful and serene on the surface, while the bottom was littered with the old bones of drowned sailors and sunken ships, and the winter coats of ice fishermen who fell in every spring.”

And the symbol on the deaf boy’s walking stick, a blue eye with a red iris, why does she find it “eerily familiar”? Is the crazy man really responsible for all those missing cats? And what happened to Lupus – the mad dog of the title – to make him so consistently enraged?

 

In addition to dreams, Watt employs other devices – Sheryl wants to be a private detective, for example, and has thus developed a habit of spying – to instil the idea that something else is going on, something sinister.

 

However, throughout most of the novel, Watt merely implies evil, skirting the evidence and causing me to wonder – with so many hints along the way – whether she’d provide the big-bang ending I was hoping for, and, if so, whether it would be predictable. The answers are yes and sort of. But if certain elements of the plot do steer to an obvious conclusion, the book still satisfies.

 

An intelligent writer, Watt adds detail like strips of glued newspaper on a papier-mâche sculpture. Fergus’s wife Eleanor used to colour hair for a living. Now she sells Avon, drinks too much and wears furry-heeled slippers. When the neighbours pay a visit, it’s because they’re wondering how Fergus could afford all that new equipment for the orchard. In one of the book’s many telling lines, Sheryl listens to the way Fergus placates them and thinks, “He could sound just like a farmer when he wanted to.”

With her first novel, Watt has created a story of substance, layering the everyday concerns of an apple harvest over those of race riots and missing civil-rights activists , the apocalypse and pagan ritual over the longing of first love, cruelty endured over cruelty meted out. to be sure, there is ugliness in Mad Dog. But there is also solid writing, from a writer whose second book I, for one, will be sure to seek out.

 

Roxanne Ward has a soft spot for the summer of 1964, it having been her first. She is the author of the novel Fits Like a Rubber Dress.

Praise For Camino Meditations

By Barbara Turner-Vesselago | Author

These “meditations” are always engaging, easy to read, articulate – but above all, REALLY worth reading!  I find every one of them thought-provoking, interesting, and true.  I’d want to read this even if I never set foot on the Camino!

By Amazon Review

I was expecting a "how to" book but was captivated by the stories that surrounded the lessons. Beautifully written. Looking forward to more from this author.

By Amazon Review

This book is beautifully written and the story has an authentic feeling. I felt like I was taken on a journey and inspired by the experience.

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