Outside the Dog Museum by Jonathan Carroll

Outside the Dog Museum

I read this on the recommendation of a friend, who told me that this was one of her favorite books but didn’t tell me what it was about. In retrospect, I’m glad she didn’t try to summarize this story, and that I went into it with only the short synopsis on the back cover to go on.


Even after finishing the book, I’m not sure if I can describe the plot, or if I should even try. On the surface, the story is about an architect being hired by the sultan of a Middle Eastern country to build a museum dedicated to dogs. The reason the sultan wants this museum to be built is because he believes that dogs have saved his life on multiple occasions, and he wants to honor them. Before we can start thinking that the sultan is nuts, we see him and the architect caught in an earthquake, and guided to safety by the architect’s dog. The sultan believes that the dog is a verz – a magical guardian. By the time I was halfway through the book, I believed him.

That’s the world Jonathan Carroll has constructed here: where magic and religion coexist, where a selfish architect can be chosen to carry out God’s work, where spiritual guides are everywhere. I still don’t know if I totally understand everything that happened, but I’m okay with that uncertainty. Here’s what I know for sure: Carroll is a damn good writer, and he can send chills down your spine with one sentence:

“Look, you read the fairy tales when you were a kid. Rub the lamp and a genie comes out, but so do a lot of other things! The greatest thing that can happened in life is your wish comes true. Or the worst thing that happens is your wish comes true. I’m the other side of the wish, honey. The dark side of the moon. I’m the one who can walk on your voice.”

Jesus, that’s fucking good. It’s unfair how good that is. The whole book is like that, full of philosophy and religion hidden in a surreal story about the construction of a dog museum. I don’t understand how Carroll did it, and I don’t understand everything about it, but I know that it’s incredible.

“‘Listen, I want to tell you something last. My speech is coming apart, everything is, but stay with me. I’ll try to make it clear enough to understand for you. Mankind’s always paid too much attention to the dead. It’s been a fundamental part of life itself. Don’t you do this, Harry. Forget the dead. Forget the dying. It was never part of God’s design. Man invented death, and so long as it continues to fascinate him, God allows it to remain.’ The next time the big man tried, he was able to get up again and make it to the door. ‘Threaten the dead. Make them afraid with what you create. Any man who loves his work forgets the dead, even his own. Any human work that is finished shows them again how incomplete they are.'”

 

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