Read review: The Power of the Dog by Tom Robbins

‘The Power of the Dog’ is a gothic western that hits all the right notes.

“When life gives you licks, you lick it all the way to the bank.”

To be honest, I’ve never been much of a dyed-in-the-wool war horse type of person when it comes to author praise. I only give it out reluctantly, because the work speaks for itself.

To start, I’ve only a mild chance of dipping my toe into the Tom Robbins community. His books are perfect to fill the puddle of entertainment I regularly bat around with my toes. Well, more or less perfect, considering they didn’t lift my blood pressure one bit.

To test my hypothesis, I bought ‘The Power of the Dog’ at the last minute before my mum’s birthday surprise celebrations. I felt more than ready for the winter cold war, and I asked her for her permission to read Robbins’ latest dark fairy tale, printed on heavy chunky paper.

Sure enough, the book had a ring of truth to it, right from the beginning. When the novelist of ‘The New World’ and ‘La Mancha’ is going for something other than romance, he still manages to find it in everything he writes.

What most people don’t know about Robbins is that he was a boxer, and his poetry is influenced by the poetry of William Butler Yeats. This book is a more basic sort of aesthetic, but it is most definitely also – as easily set to beat-up a cow, and smell like something fallen in the snow.

Full of drama, strong characters and a fiercely confident oeuvre, Robbins is a great cross between Cormac McCarthy and Haruki Murakami.

He’s a Western writer that everyone should read. ‘The Power of the Dog’ is a gothic western that hits all the right notes.

From the horses-drawn carriage to the lawless underbelly, this is all drenched in salty clichés – all great!

Yes, Robbins is a man who obviously loves Old Faithful, but it’s doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate all that he also brings to the page, and even appreciate his less precious moments.

The collection of 25 stories follows the Frank Wolfe model, with the headstrong Ryan Crozier taking to the fray (previously attempted by others) to become lawman, or worse.

The stories range across land and sea, with some dealing with turmoil in the world outside the fractured frontiers of existence.

Robbins is also famous for his poetic depictions of the wilderness, and, as a native – born in Oregon, grew up in Texas – this is a no-doubt aesthetic read, in that these stories aren’t necessarily short of a dash of wonder.

Either way, he’s a Western writer that everyone should read.

Rating: 5/5

‘The Power of the Dog’


Michael Gibbons is an Edinburgh-based writer and author. You can follow him on Twitter at @JGibboDSS

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