Erika Ritter's non-fiction tome The Dog by the Cradle, the Serpent Beneath: Some Paradoxes of Human-Animal Relationships is Book 11 in my goal to read and review 13 Canadian books about dogs for the Great Canadian Book Challenge. It is one of the most difficult books I've ever read. The topic is a tough one to chew on, and Ritter's style leaves much to be desired. In the first chapter, she set my teeth on edge by making fun of Dr. Temple Grandin's beliefs and autistic behaviours. It set the wrong note for the entire book.
Central to the book, and the basis of the title, is the story about Guinefort, a greyhound in medieval France, who was killed by his master for a crime he didn't commit. Ritter comes back to this story repeatedly - introducing it multiple times in most chapters. By the end of the first chapter, I was annoyed; by the end of the book, I was gnashing my teeth as I reread the basic premise of the story for the umpteenth time. Ritter goes off topic repeatedly - not surprisingly, given how many times she goes back to the old Guinefort tale. Frequently, I lost my place, not understanding how I had arrived at the point I was reading. The book has a lot of promise, especially since it is clear that Ritter's research was exhaustive. With a strong editorial hand guiding her, Ritter could have produced something much more powerful. However, she has missed the mark.
My bottom line: If the topic really interests you, try checking it out of the library. That way you don't have to feel guilty if you can't finish it.
The light is at the end of the tunnel for the Challenge, whew. Two Stanleys to go to meet my goal of 13: Stanley Coren's The Modern Dog and Linda Bailey's and Bill Slavin's Stanley picture books.