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The Power of the Dog (Vintage Classics)

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First published in 1967, Thomas Savage's western novel about two brothers now includes an afterword by Annie Proulx. Phil and George are brothers, more than partners, joint owners of the biggest ranch in their Montana valley. Phil is the bright one, George the plodder. Phil is tall and angular; George is stocky and silent. Phil is a brilliant chess player, a voracious reade First published in 1967, Thomas Savage's western novel about two brothers now includes an afterword by Annie Proulx. Phil and George are brothers, more than partners, joint owners of the biggest ranch in their Montana valley. Phil is the bright one, George the plodder. Phil is tall and angular; George is stocky and silent. Phil is a brilliant chess player, a voracious reader, an eloquent storyteller; George learns slowly, and devotes himself to the business. Phil is a vicious sadist, with a seething contempt for weakness to match his thirst for dominance; George has a gentle, loving soul. They sleep in the room they shared as boys, and so it has been for forty years. When George unexpectedly marries a young widow and brings her to live at the ranch, Phil begins a relentless campaign to destroy his brother's new wife. But he reckons without an unlikely protector. From its visceral first paragraph to its devastating twist of an ending, The Power of the Dog will hold you in its grip. WITH AN AFTERWORD BY ANNIE PROULX


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First published in 1967, Thomas Savage's western novel about two brothers now includes an afterword by Annie Proulx. Phil and George are brothers, more than partners, joint owners of the biggest ranch in their Montana valley. Phil is the bright one, George the plodder. Phil is tall and angular; George is stocky and silent. Phil is a brilliant chess player, a voracious reade First published in 1967, Thomas Savage's western novel about two brothers now includes an afterword by Annie Proulx. Phil and George are brothers, more than partners, joint owners of the biggest ranch in their Montana valley. Phil is the bright one, George the plodder. Phil is tall and angular; George is stocky and silent. Phil is a brilliant chess player, a voracious reader, an eloquent storyteller; George learns slowly, and devotes himself to the business. Phil is a vicious sadist, with a seething contempt for weakness to match his thirst for dominance; George has a gentle, loving soul. They sleep in the room they shared as boys, and so it has been for forty years. When George unexpectedly marries a young widow and brings her to live at the ranch, Phil begins a relentless campaign to destroy his brother's new wife. But he reckons without an unlikely protector. From its visceral first paragraph to its devastating twist of an ending, The Power of the Dog will hold you in its grip. WITH AN AFTERWORD BY ANNIE PROULX

30 review for The Power of the Dog (Vintage Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    I wonder how extraordinary writers fade into obscurity. I pondered this the whole time I was reading this 1967 novel, and asked myself a few pertinent questions such as: Why isn't Thomas Savage a name that easily rolls off the tongue of many a book lover? Why isn't his name the answer to a Jeopardy question? Why isn't "Thomas-Savage-ian" an adjective? Maybe it's because we decided that it was no longer fashionable to read slow burning, ruthless stories. Nah, we said, forget about it. We're not int I wonder how extraordinary writers fade into obscurity. I pondered this the whole time I was reading this 1967 novel, and asked myself a few pertinent questions such as: Why isn't Thomas Savage a name that easily rolls off the tongue of many a book lover? Why isn't his name the answer to a Jeopardy question? Why isn't "Thomas-Savage-ian" an adjective? Maybe it's because we decided that it was no longer fashionable to read slow burning, ruthless stories. Nah, we said, forget about it. We're not into writers who are ahead of their time. We don't need no western settings. Nor do we need to read the father of Brokeback Mountain. No sirree. Psychological tension that just about strangles you with its looming dread and doom just doesn't do it for us anymore. Satisfying endings are just so last-mid-century. I'm disappointed in "us", in a people who could let Thomas Savage's works collect dust and dwindle from the collective consciousness. He carries with him the dream shattered soul of John Steinbeck, the quiet foreboding reminiscent of Wharton's Ethan Frome, and the elegance and simplicity of John Williams’ Stoner. This, his fifth novel, is a modern reworking of the biblical story of Cain and Abel, with darkness to spare. Life is mean and tough for his poor players, and each character is drawn with such understanding and depth, you can't help but feel compassion, even for the one who deserves it the least. As you can tell, I loved this book. I probably haven't done it justice. Please read it. It's a Thomas-Savage-ian masterpiece.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Julie G

    How silly I was, adding this, ever so casually, to my year of the dog shelf. I thought it was a story about a dog. I ordered a copy from the library, in an attempt to get one last “dog related” read in before the lunar year shifts our focus to the pig. You know. . . Goodbye Lassie, Hello Wilbur. . . Oh, dear. My first clue was seeing this on the cover: Afterword by Annie Proulx. Annie Proulx? Uh-oh. Other than my beloved The Shipping News, everything else I've read by Annie has reminded me of the f How silly I was, adding this, ever so casually, to my year of the dog shelf. I thought it was a story about a dog. I ordered a copy from the library, in an attempt to get one last “dog related” read in before the lunar year shifts our focus to the pig. You know. . . Goodbye Lassie, Hello Wilbur. . . Oh, dear. My first clue was seeing this on the cover: Afterword by Annie Proulx. Annie Proulx? Uh-oh. Other than my beloved The Shipping News, everything else I've read by Annie has reminded me of the famous wood chipper scene in Fargo. My second clue was the first line of the book: Phil always did the castrating. . . SURPRISE! Wow, I just spent the past week of my life in a sort of literary torture chamber with the Burbanks family of Montana. I feel like the author, Thomas Savage, took a glue gun from an arts and crafts store and poked it into my abdomen, to use on my intestines. I don't want you to get the wrong impression here; there's no actual, physical violence on humans in this book. Nope. Instead it's just one. . . sick. . . head. . . fuck. Ack! Phil Burbank. . . I never even knew you existed! But, oh, how Phil knew how to touch the sore place. Lord, how he knew how to lift a scab. And, seriously, Thomas Savage. . . who in the hell were you?? (And, did you mean to have that last name??) Your writing is SAVAGE, Thomas. (If you love Wallace Stegner, John Williams and/or Kent Haruf, your reading fate is probably sealed here). She couldn't be anything unless someone believed in her, nothing at all. She could be nothing but what someone believed she was.

  3. 5 out of 5

    William2

    An exceptional novel. A story whose setting in the American west reminds me a little of Cormac McCarthy’s work. Now a film by Jane Campion — The Piano, An Angel At My Table, etc. It’s interesting to see how much content she did not use, almost 2/3 of the book. The happiness brother George has found with the widow Rose is something Phil can never have. As a teenager Phil was the lover of Bronco Henry, his rustic cow punching mentor. Phil has no future unless it is the perpetuation of himself and hi An exceptional novel. A story whose setting in the American west reminds me a little of Cormac McCarthy’s work. Now a film by Jane Campion — The Piano, An Angel At My Table, etc. It’s interesting to see how much content she did not use, almost 2/3 of the book. The happiness brother George has found with the widow Rose is something Phil can never have. As a teenager Phil was the lover of Bronco Henry, his rustic cow punching mentor. Phil has no future unless it is the perpetuation of himself and his brother as a team of wealthy ranchers. Rose comes along and annihilates all that. He calls her “a cheap little schemer.” She’s no such thing. She is a loving wife and mother. But Phil, who is no longer his brother’s cynosure, torments her. Rose starts getting headaches; for relief she takes to drink. Enter Peter, Rose’s son, shrewd beyond his years. Phil is a homosexual posing as a homophobe so he tries to humiliate Peter as a “sissy.” It does not work. In fact, Phil is smitten. He tells himself by befriending the boy he’s undermining Rose, but that’s self delusion. Lately Peter has been away studying medicine. But during breaks he’s back at the ranch. Rose hates Phil for mocking her piano playing. Now stupidly, George, too in love, invites the governor to hear her play. It’s a debacle. Meanwhile Phil and Peter are taking wilderness trips together. In the portion of the storyline omitted by Campion there’s a tale of Rose’s first husband, Johnny, a doctor and a drunkard who is humiliated by Phil and later hangs himself. It’s not clear if Rose or her son know just what Phil has done to their original nuclear unit. Phil despises those who “humiliate themselves for money.” He has worked, yes, but his father’s money was there for him from the cradle. He props up his own ego by humiliating others like “sissies,” Jews, Indians and the poor. For one who prizes his own cleverness so much, his end is fitting; for the reader it’s also surprising and deeply satisfying.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Perry

    No Hot Dogs, Nanners or Mayo Oh, Good Grief! A recent reissue of a 1967 ground-breaking Western novel, a high-pressurized psychological study of two brothers, George and Phil, as well as of the former's new wife Rose, who before the marriage was a widow, and her 17-year-old son, "Miss Nancy," which is brother Phil's nickname for Peter, the sensitive, "sissy" son. The novel was set in the 1920s. I don't want to say too much to give away the plot, which is in fact telegraphed from early on. I will s No Hot Dogs, Nanners or Mayo Oh, Good Grief! A recent reissue of a 1967 ground-breaking Western novel, a high-pressurized psychological study of two brothers, George and Phil, as well as of the former's new wife Rose, who before the marriage was a widow, and her 17-year-old son, "Miss Nancy," which is brother Phil's nickname for Peter, the sensitive, "sissy" son. The novel was set in the 1920s. I don't want to say too much to give away the plot, which is in fact telegraphed from early on. I will say though that the novel reminds me of a merciless, blustering bully I knew growing up who expressed an absolute disgust with gay men, so much so, he said, that he refused to eat hot dogs, bananas or mayo. I was no Freudian scholar but I knew enough about human nature to figure out this dude had some major "issues" with his sexuality. This was in the early 80s, in the South and AIDS/HIV was just coming on the radar as a public scare. This novel particularly resonated with me because I was bullied between 13 and 15 years old, as a very, very late bloomer. My voice did not start to change until I was 17, I didnt have to shave until I was 19, I was skinny as a rail until 19, and I grew 6 inches between graduating high school and turning 21. So, I was bullied without mercy and called "faggot," "sissy," and other names. Thing is, I have always been heterosexual and never questioned my sexuality. I've never had a problem with the sexuality of others. In my family--that I know of--I have a gay first cousin and 2 gay first cousins-once removed. Looking back, I have little doubt that my torturers acted against me, as smaller and weaker, out of fear and hatred and self-repression. Though I still carry light scars from those few years, I have always been secure in my sexuality and I am probably considerably bigger than those guys are now. Back to this brilliant 1967 book, it is a real steel-toed boot to the butt of many bullies. A compelling examination of self-hatred's hoodoo and the hold over a household that a rabid dog can have.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alexis Hall

    Source of book: Bought by me Relevant disclaimers: None Please note: This review may not be reproduced or quoted, in whole or in part, without explicit consent from the author. And remember: I am not here to judge your drag, I mean your book. Books are art and art is subjective. These are just my personal thoughts. They are not meant to be taken as broader commentary on the general quality of the work. Believe me, I have not enjoyed many an excellent book, and my individual lack of enjoyment has no Source of book: Bought by me Relevant disclaimers: None Please note: This review may not be reproduced or quoted, in whole or in part, without explicit consent from the author. And remember: I am not here to judge your drag, I mean your book. Books are art and art is subjective. These are just my personal thoughts. They are not meant to be taken as broader commentary on the general quality of the work. Believe me, I have not enjoyed many an excellent book, and my individual lack of enjoyment has not made any of those books less excellent or (more relevantly) less successful. Further disclaimer: Readers, please stop accusing me of trying to take down “my competition” because I wrote a review you didn’t like. This is complete nonsense. Firstly, writing isn’t a competitive sport. Secondly, I only publish reviews of books in the subgenre where I’m best known (queer romcom) if they’re glowing. And finally: taking time out of my life to read an entire book, then write a detailed review about it that a handful of people on GR will look at would be a profoundly inefficient and ineffective way to damage the careers of other authors. If you can’t credit me with simply being a person who loves books and likes talking about them, at least credit me with enough common sense to be a better villain. *** I … I do not quite know how to talk about this. But this book absolutely blew my mind. I picked it up because I was curious about the movie but couldn’t watch it (we’re still not subscribed to Netflix because of its treatment of its trans employees) and, actually, I’m really glad I read the book first. Because while I’m sure the movie is great, The Power of the Dog might just be one of the best things I’ve read? Or at least, listened the audiobook of. Which, by the way, I heartily recommend as a way to interact with this text. I’m not actually a big audiobook listener because I read, I think, reasonably quickly and obviously an audiobook can take upwards of 20 hours to listen to, unless you make everyone sound like chipmunks which sort of defeats the point of having a book read to you by a (hopefully) skilled narrator. So I tend to stick to books I already know—classics, usually—read by people whose voices I independently enjoy or else books whose particular style benefits from hearing them related by a particular voice. In this case, Chad Michael Collins has the perfect gravelly cowboy drawl—sounds like he’s stepped right out Red Dead Redemption 2, in fact—alongside sufficient to range to make every character voice feel unique, and the unexpected moments of beauty, hope and tenderness hit all the harder. The audiobook is 8 hours long, suggesting the book itself is a taut little thing. But I literally spent an entire day finding excuses to listen instead of doing anything else. Let me tell you, the grouting in our bathroom is positively sparkly right now. In any case The Power of the Dog is, I guess, a psychological thriller, almost a domestic one since it's set within the insularity of a life on a ranch. But it's also a complicated exploration of power, masculinity, love, cruelty and … well … queerness. Set in the early 20th century, the deal here is that Phil and George Burbank own the largest ranch in the local area—some corner of rural of America that is slowly slipping into irrelevance as time marches on. The two brothers could not be more different: George is sturdy, unassuming, quiet, and kind whereas Phil is slender, brilliant, confident, and intolerant to the point of “whoa there.” I mean, this guy is racist, misogynistic and—I’m sure it goes without saying—exceptionally down on “sissies.” Then George marries Rose, the gentle-hearted widow of an alcoholic doctor, and Phil takes immediately against her, deciding to drive her from the ranch through a campaign of subtle, yet sustained, emotional abuse. This situation is only complicated by the arrival of Rose’s sixteen-year-old son, Peter, who is a chilly, effeminate boy, the absolute manifestation of everything Phil despises about sissies. What follows is part powerplay, part love story (in the most twisted sense), saturated by an uncomfortable but undeniable sensuality (despite the fact the characters only touch once) and the crushing weight of inevitable, impeding doom. I hope, from this description, is that’s fairly obvious Phil is gay, and so deeply repressed that he has essentially fashioned himself into the most damaging manifestation of masculine identity conceivable: a man who “loathed the world, should it loathe him.” In general, I’m not mad keen on the whole “homophobic homosexual” trope, since makes it the problem of homophobia kind a problem for queer people which is messed up, but The Power of the Dog was written in 1967—when writing about queer people at all, especially in the masculinity-saturated world of the western, was pretty much unthinkable. I don’t want to say too much about the book because the unfolding of its psychodrama is so satisfying that I don’t want to spoil it. But the characterwork is so deep and deft that I’ve sort of been haunted by all of them since I finished, even the side characters, like Rose’s uselessly kind previous husband or Edward Nappo (the son of a Native American chief who wants to take his son to visit the mountains on the land where they used to live before the whole tribe was moved to a reservation two hundred miles away), whose stories are braided through the narrative giving breadth and context to a story that could otherwise have been unbearably insular. The relationship between the instinctively loving Rose and quiet, solid George (as much a victim of his brother’s abuse as anyone) is so tentative, tender, and shyly hope-touched that it’s genuinely devastating to see it (and Rose) buckle beneath Phil’s unremitting scorn. As for Phil. Dear God. Such a perfectly balanced portrait of a monster and a tragedy, I couldn’t help thinking what a terrible waste of a person. Not to excuse his abuses, of course. The man is an abuser through and through, whose impact on those who might have cared of him, is nothing short of unremittingly toxic. But, at the same time, it is hard not to read him an indictment on a world where cruelty creates villains from those who could have been different. Although probably the saddest line in the whole book for me was this one: “[Phil] had a hunch George hated sissies as much as he did”. It is, of course, a reflection of Phil’s inability to accept himself cast onto others, but the truth is George is nothing but kind to Peter (despite his overtly “sissyish” ways). In fact, if George even notices, or knows what it means, or cares, the text offers no evidence. All we get is this when he’s speaking to Rose: ‘I don’t forget I’m a stepfather. I imagine a stepfather’s got to try a little harder than a father. I’d imagine there’s no reason for a boy to like a stepfather unless a fellow tries. I know how I’d feel.’ Long story short: incredible book, worth it, I suspect, even if you’ve watched the movie, because the scope is so much greater, and the interior life of the characters so much richer. I do wish the ending had been slightly less abrupt, not so much because I wanted to dwell on what happened, but part of me had grown to care so much for the characters that I was hoping for a bit more closure. Hoping but not expecting. Probably it ended exactly as it needed to. Also, as far as symbols for queer desire go, I will never think of willow trees the same way again.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Zoeytron

    This is the story of two brothers, Phil and George Burbank.  The setting is Montana, circa 1920's.  Phil and George run a successful cattle ranch.  These two are bachelors, nearing 40 years of age.  They are close, even to continuing to share the room in which they were raised.  Other than that, they are as different as night and day.  Phil, the older brother, is a talker, good looking, book smart, tough, and mean-spirited.  George is plain, stodgy, quiet, and has a kind heart.  As different as This is the story of two brothers, Phil and George Burbank.  The setting is Montana, circa 1920's.  Phil and George run a successful cattle ranch.  These two are bachelors, nearing 40 years of age.  They are close, even to continuing to share the room in which they were raised.  Other than that, they are as different as night and day.  Phil, the older brother, is a talker, good looking, book smart, tough, and mean-spirited.  George is plain, stodgy, quiet, and has a kind heart.  As different as they are, they are family and it has worked well for them.  When a widow with a son comes into their lives, life as they have known it goes flying out of the window.   Think of years gone by, and the shadows that they cast upon our lives.  This is a story that I will be long in forgetting.  It's a Western, but set without gun play.  There is a modicum of grit, but it isn't predominant.  Family, loyalty, love, and life.  If this appeals at all, glom onto a copy and get to reading.  There was something about it that asserts its star-worthiness, it gets five of them from me.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    ***This review probably contains some spoilers*** I just reread this novel, after losing track of it for a few years. It was just as emotionally powerful for me this time around. Beautiful, lean writing style with few wasted words...yet it still feels like an epic Western story of Montana ranch life in the 1920’s. The story depicts family dynamics in the life of two brothers from a wealthy ranching household in 1924. Phil, the oldest is a brilliant but repressed homosexual. His younger brother, G ***This review probably contains some spoilers*** I just reread this novel, after losing track of it for a few years. It was just as emotionally powerful for me this time around. Beautiful, lean writing style with few wasted words...yet it still feels like an epic Western story of Montana ranch life in the 1920’s. The story depicts family dynamics in the life of two brothers from a wealthy ranching household in 1924. Phil, the oldest is a brilliant but repressed homosexual. His younger brother, George is slow-witted yet basically a decent, caring man. Tensions surface when George marries a widow and brings her, along with her sissy son to the ranch to live. Phil’s reptilian and cunning persona emerges as he ridicules the widow, Rose and taunts her effeminate son, Peter. It’s not for the faint of heart. Parts of the novel are as brutal as the harsh, isolating and unforgiving elements of the western landscape, also a character in this story. This is a brilliant and compelling psychological drama…an astonishing piece of work, when one considers the world’s intolerant attitudes toward homosexuality, especially in the masculine West during the 1920’s – or even in 1967 (for that matter) when Thomas Savage originally published this novel. Annie Proulx wrote the Afterword to this particular edition (2001). And, in that Afterword she says, “…a psychological study freighted with drama and tension, unusual in dealing with a topic rarely discussed in that period – repressed homosexuality displayed as homophobia in masculine ranch world." I’ve no doubt that this novel influenced her short story, “Brokeback Mountain”, which was adapted as a critically acclaimed movie in 2005. I was mesmerized by this tragic and complex character study as it builds heightening tension from beginning to its karmic conclusion. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

  8. 4 out of 5

    James

    Some writers dwell on the darker side of humanity, and their work can often feel brutal and bleak to the point of being unbearable. Other writers choose to emphasize the brighter side of humanity, at the risk of sometimes seeming too naively cheerful or cloyingly sweet. But the best writers (or at least my personal favorites) have an uncanny ability to find the perfect balance between these extremes, exploring with unflinching candor and astonishing compassion the messy mixture of beauty and ugl Some writers dwell on the darker side of humanity, and their work can often feel brutal and bleak to the point of being unbearable. Other writers choose to emphasize the brighter side of humanity, at the risk of sometimes seeming too naively cheerful or cloyingly sweet. But the best writers (or at least my personal favorites) have an uncanny ability to find the perfect balance between these extremes, exploring with unflinching candor and astonishing compassion the messy mixture of beauty and ugliness, strength and frailty, kindness and cruelty that exists within each and every one of us. Thomas Savage, it turns out, is exactly that kind of writer. This is one of those books where the less you know going into it, the better. So I'll skip over the usual plot summary except to say it's set on a Montana ranch in the 1920's, a unique blend of revisionist Western and Gothic domestic drama, with some pitch-black comedy tossed into the mix for good measure. And it's easily the best book I've read all year. Few authors are able to write with the almost divine omniscience and keen understanding of human nature that Savage displays so effortlessly here. He captures the hopes, fears, insecurities, joys, disappointments, and cruelties of his characters with an expansive empathy and unbridled honesty that is both breathtaking and at times deeply unsettling. And he's created in Phil Burbank one of the most compelling, charismatic, despicable, and unforgettable literary characters I've met in a very long time. Some readers may find this slow-moving, but for me it read more like a breathlessly suspenseful psychological thriller. I'm a notoriously slow reader and I devoured this book in three nights. Every action and decision, no matter how seemingly trivial, and every conversation, both said and unsaid, is infused with such a profound sense of significance and dread, spurring the story ever closer toward its inevitable and devastating conclusion. I loathed every minute I had to tear myself away from these wonderful characters and their tormented lives, aching to see them achieve the peace and happiness that always seems just within reach. And now that I'm finished, I desperately miss them already, almost to the point of resenting Savage for doing his job so damn well. If that's not deserving of an enthusiastic 5 stars, then I don't know what is! I'm not usually one to offer content/trigger warnings, but I know I have several GR friends who are sensitive to depictions of cruelty and violence against children and animals, and there's A LOT of the latter in this book. It's consistent with the book's setting, symbolism, and overall themes, but some may find it too disturbing to tolerate.

  9. 5 out of 5

    LA Cantrell

    What a sly and creepy old cowboy story! Utterly outstanding and, considering that this was written in 1967, it is timeless as well. Don't let the western setting nudge you into thinking that this is a shoot-em-up or something that Louis Lamour would have written. This is dark and juicy. Two middle-aged bachelor brothers are very prosperous ranchers in 1920s Montana, both loyal to their land and tending to the wealth that came from their parents. But it is at that point that their similarities sto What a sly and creepy old cowboy story! Utterly outstanding and, considering that this was written in 1967, it is timeless as well. Don't let the western setting nudge you into thinking that this is a shoot-em-up or something that Louis Lamour would have written. This is dark and juicy. Two middle-aged bachelor brothers are very prosperous ranchers in 1920s Montana, both loyal to their land and tending to the wealth that came from their parents. But it is at that point that their similarities stop. Handsome Phil is known for his brilliance and artistry, roping, photographic memory, charm, witty repartee - you name it. George, on the other hand, is a bit of a duff. Kind, but still a duff. Remember that song from Donny and Marie - I'm a little bit country...I'm a lil bit rrrock and rollll? Slick Phil prides himself on being a man's man - bathing in the creek once every few weeks, never wearing gloves no matter the weather - but he is absolutely the rock and roll side of the brotherly duo. Quick-witted, I took a shine to him in the early pages of this fantastic psychological tale. Poor George is definitely in his brother's shadow but seems very content to be there. When their lives intersect with a beautiful town woman, mother to an incredibly bright and sensitive boy, the balance between the brothers is irrevocably upset. No - they do not both fall in love with her. Nothing that shallow plot-wise happens, but when this woman and her boy enter the brothers' world, frightening things begin to happen. This book is rich in texture and nuance, and I am afraid to write anymore for fear of giving things away! There were two resolutions at the end of the book that I thought I saw coming, but I believe the author intended that so we could savor the anticipation. It is fitting that Annie Proulx wrote the afterword for this re-release. The book reminds me of her "That Old Ace in the Hole" in a way, but this old beauty is encased in psychological tension that thrilled me. 5 stars and on my Favorites shelf!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    An intriguing character study that explores the hollowness of manly virtues. I liked how it surprised me by showing how the true Western wilderness of the American Dream may be gone by the early 20th century, but it is still lodged in the human heart. Annie Proulx, in her afterword provided this summation of the strengths of this book: Savage, though rarely included in the western literary lists, was one of the first Montana writers … His novels are rich in character development, written in clear An intriguing character study that explores the hollowness of manly virtues. I liked how it surprised me by showing how the true Western wilderness of the American Dream may be gone by the early 20th century, but it is still lodged in the human heart. Annie Proulx, in her afterword provided this summation of the strengths of this book: Savage, though rarely included in the western literary lists, was one of the first Montana writers … His novels are rich in character development, written in clear and well-balanced sentences wit striking and important landscape description, imbued with a natural sense of drama and literary tension. …Something aching and terrible of the west is caught forever on his pages, and the most compelling and painful of these books is The Power of the Dog, a work of literary art. The main characters are two middle-aged brothers, Phil and George, who are running a large family ranch, and a widow and her son, Rose and Peter, who move in after she marries the more kindly brother. Phil is the bright and articulate one of the pair, college educated with a razor wit, a sort of Renaissance man with skills in artistic ironwork, taxidermy, chess playing to complement his ability to fix equipment of all sorts and manage the crew. In contrast, George is slow and laconic, stolid and reliable in his job of managing the books and communicating with buyers. Where Phil is mercurial and just plain mean, George is good humored and kind. Rose moved from the East with her doctor husband and is cast adrift when he dies , leaving her to struggle with how to raise her son in the dog-eat-dog world of this small railroad town on the plains of southwestern Montana. Peter turns out an odd secretive boy, who does poorly in sports and so avoids other kids and spends his time reading his father’s medical books, studying nature, and pursuing artistic endeavors like making paper flowers. No wonder he gets tagged a sissy and is subject to bullying by the other kids. Phil is such a fascinating character. At first you can almost appreciate his devotion to proving himself superior in his toughness and competency and worthy of his heroes from the old days. Instead of playing the part of wealthy owner he is, he dresses like a farm hand, bathes at a pond once a month, abjures gloves when doing rough work, and loves to hang out joking around with the “boys” in the bunkhouse at the end of the day. But something is frozen and twisted in his development. He gets the same pleasure in bullying people he perceives as fools as you would expect in children. He and George still sleep in the same beds in the same room they did as boys, and neither pursue continuing the dynasty for the next generation after their parents retire to a hotel room in Salt Lake City. There the Old Gent dabbled in the stock market and the Old Lady played mah-jongg and dressed for dinner as they always had. Closed off the Old Folks’ bedroom gathered dust kicked up by the automobiles—more and more of them every day—that putt-putted up the road out front. In that room the air grew stale, the Old Lady’s geraniums died, the black marble clock stopped. But the situation changes dramatically when kindly George falls for the widow and brings her back to the ranch as his new bride. Phil makes it clear to all how he sees Rose as a mercenary gold-digger with pretentions to culture he is ready to undermine at every step. And he can’t resist branding Peter as a sissy every chance he gets. In a critical turning point, Rose undermines Phil’s power in an emblematic way. An old Indian chief escapes with is son from the reservation 200 miles away and travels by cart to share the sacred spots of his tribe’s traditional lands, now part of the huge ranch. Phil viciously turns them away at gunpoint, but Rose later encounters them and invites them to camp on the land. Life soon becomes a living hell for all four of the main characters as each seeks some kind of solution. Finally, things seem to get better when Peter shows interest in learning Phil’s skills at braiding rawhide ropes, and they start spending a lot of time together. The ending and resolution to this tale has a dark, karmic twist that left me reeling. Much is left to the reader to figure out what this book says about the role of the West in the American character. It was a time and place for discovery and escape from stultifying aspects of civilization, a chance to prove yourself against the hazards of the wilderness and tough peoples and dangerous Indians who resided there. Teddy Roosevelt, who was a sickly boy tagged a sissy, proved himself in just such a ranch. But many who banked on such an outlook were misfits not worthy of the term civilized, and the greed that steamrolled the Indians is a heritage hard for us descendants to live by. Much food for thought her. The story will make you wonder about the title and its place in the opening quote from the Old Testament: Deliver my soul from the sword, /My darling from the power of the dog..

  11. 4 out of 5

    Betsy Robinson

    I didn't want this to end. I read slowly. But I also had to find out what happened. So I read fast. How did I get this old and not know about this primal work of art first published in 1967? Thank you to Goodreader Mel for her unrevealing yet irresistible review; she is right—it is best to go into this book blind. If I owned a copy—and I'll probably end up buying it to read it again—I would put it on my shelf beside a book I've read three times and own two copies of, John Williams's Stoner. And i I didn't want this to end. I read slowly. But I also had to find out what happened. So I read fast. How did I get this old and not know about this primal work of art first published in 1967? Thank you to Goodreader Mel for her unrevealing yet irresistible review; she is right—it is best to go into this book blind. If I owned a copy—and I'll probably end up buying it to read it again—I would put it on my shelf beside a book I've read three times and own two copies of, John Williams's Stoner. And if I owned them (and again, I may end up buying these treasures), I would accompany The Power of the Dog and Stoner with John Williams's Butcher's Crossing and all of Kent Haruf's books and all of Mary Lawson's. Also, maybe John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (there is an almost invisible reference homage to that book on page 212 of Dog). If you love any of these writers and their books as much as I do, that is all the recommendation you'll need to read Mr. Savage's exquisitely written novel. The republished 2001 edition has an enlightening afterword by Annie Proulx. I suspect this book gets even better on a second reading—to see how it is made. *A day after finishing I reread parts of the beginning and the complete last four chapters. It's even more delicious to read, knowing what the whole story is. I saw so much more. This is a book that can be read multiple times!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Faith

    I learned about this book when I saw that a new Benedict Cumberbatch movie based on it had been made. The trailer for the movie looks like they have followed the book pretty closely. The book was first published in 1967 and there have been previous attempts to film this tension-filled story of 2 Montana ranchers. This is a dark, suspenseful, character-driven book about 2 unmarried brothers who run their cattle ranch after their parents have retired. Tall and graceful Phil is exceptionally quick- I learned about this book when I saw that a new Benedict Cumberbatch movie based on it had been made. The trailer for the movie looks like they have followed the book pretty closely. The book was first published in 1967 and there have been previous attempts to film this tension-filled story of 2 Montana ranchers. This is a dark, suspenseful, character-driven book about 2 unmarried brothers who run their cattle ranch after their parents have retired. Tall and graceful Phil is exceptionally quick-witted and has excelled at everything he has attempted, including cruelty. His discomfort with his repressed homosexuality has spilled over into hatred of Jews, blacks, Indians and women. Short, stocky and socially awkward George runs the business end of the ranch. When George shockingly marries a widow with a teenaged son, considered to be a “sissy boy”, things do not go well. This book is really wonderful. The first chapter begins with a castration scene that is pretty unpleasant, but it is not repeated, so don’t be turned off by that. Phil is the giant, looming center of the book but each of the other characters seems equally real as they try to cope with their insecurities and with Phil. The ending of the book is so surprising, and rendered with such subtlety, that I thought that I had somehow missed a big event, so I reread the last chapter. I hadn’t missed anything, the author just wasn’t afraid of making the reader fill in some gaps. That is true of the entire book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Carmel Hanes

    If you value an interesting story, a beautiful and unusual writing style, and descriptions that make you pause to completely absorb their depth, this novel is for you. They say a good book is timeless, and this one fits the bill, even though it was written back in the sixties. Some may dismiss it as a cowboy story, but it is so much more. The story follows two brothers who have carved out a partnership running a ranch, each contributing according to their particular interests and gifts; their liv If you value an interesting story, a beautiful and unusual writing style, and descriptions that make you pause to completely absorb their depth, this novel is for you. They say a good book is timeless, and this one fits the bill, even though it was written back in the sixties. Some may dismiss it as a cowboy story, but it is so much more. The story follows two brothers who have carved out a partnership running a ranch, each contributing according to their particular interests and gifts; their lives set by predictable routines, their interactions etched into accepted patterns, even if not fully enjoyed by the other. There is a status quo that each has accepted, despite being polar opposites on most measured dimensions, and they live as though that status quo will last forever. Enter a wife (with a teenage son) and watch the apples roll from the toppled cart. Gone is the order from their world as adjustments are made to this new consideration and these presences. The remainder of the novel provides glimpses into the inner thoughts, feelings, and responses of each as they try to co-exist in a world where little is said out loud. It is the lack of actual dialogue, and the nature of what does get said, that is so striking about this novel. We are in the heads of the characters, or being given background through narration, which is very different from books of today where action and dialogue fill most of the pages. It's as though the characters are talking to us in their heads, which creates a very different experience....but one that I enjoyed immensely. It created a world representing all the things that don't get done and said, but are there lurking in the background. Some will say there was too much "telling" and not enough "showing", but this was a masterful tell. We feel Phil's callousness, George's empathy and patience, Rose's anxiety, and Peter's aloofness as they stealthily move towards the ultimate intersection that changes everything. I've never seen a gradual reveal done quite so splendidly. It produces the simultaneous reactions of shock and "of course". You have hints, you think you maybe know where it's going, but still, the arrival makes you catch your breath. And the language...stunning at times. "George never blamed anybody, a virtue so remote and inhuman it probably accounted for the discomfort people felt in his presence; his silence they took for disapproval and it allowed them no chink to get at him and quarrel with him. His silence left people guilty and they had no chance to dilute their guilt with anger." "She felt suffocated in the void between her intention and her ability, and shattered by loneliness." "Phil pondered how one man passes a gift on to another, how like the very chains and lengths of rawhide rope a man makes, human character is woven on a strand of this and a strand of that--sometimes beautifully and sometimes poorly. " "But Phil knew...what it was to be a pariah, and he had loathed the world, should it loath him first." I especially enjoyed how the complex Phil character was portrayed and revealed over the course of the story. Great read. Thank you to those of you who had reviewed it, letting us know it was out there.

  14. 4 out of 5

    NILTON TEIXEIRA

    I have to thank Netflix and Jane Campion for bringing this book to my attention. The movie adaptation was simply brilliant, thanks to a superb screenplay written by Jane Campion, who also directed the movie and who won an Oscar for best direction (she was nominated for best screenplay for this movie. She also won an Oscar for best screenplay for “The Piano”, a superb movie). This book was originally published in 1967. The setting is Montana, I think between 1900 and 1925. It’s a terrific western nov I have to thank Netflix and Jane Campion for bringing this book to my attention. The movie adaptation was simply brilliant, thanks to a superb screenplay written by Jane Campion, who also directed the movie and who won an Oscar for best direction (she was nominated for best screenplay for this movie. She also won an Oscar for best screenplay for “The Piano”, a superb movie). This book was originally published in 1967. The setting is Montana, I think between 1900 and 1925. It’s a terrific western novel and I would have missed if it wasn’t for the latest hype. The author, Thomas Savage, was incredibly talented. The writing is terrific and very engaging. The storyline, although slow, is very interesting and got me hooked from the start. I won’t say more about this book, but I do recommend watching the movie adaptation first, mostly because of the visual effects that will enhance the storyline and the pleasure of reading this book. The cinematography (filmed in New Zealand) is simply stunning! Although the movie is extremely slow, I was fascinated by the storyline and the performances.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ned

    I thought I'd put my thoughts down before reading the Afterward by Annie Proulx. What a story. It’s been awhile since the first and last paragraphs so neatly capture a tortured saga. I saw the ending coming, doubted it, but yet it came in unexpected iteration. I’m so delighted to have found this author, he’s on my A list. The people are drawn true, most eccentric, therefore all-the-more true characters as they play out a drama on the high plains of a cattle ranch Utah right after the war. This b I thought I'd put my thoughts down before reading the Afterward by Annie Proulx. What a story. It’s been awhile since the first and last paragraphs so neatly capture a tortured saga. I saw the ending coming, doubted it, but yet it came in unexpected iteration. I’m so delighted to have found this author, he’s on my A list. The people are drawn true, most eccentric, therefore all-the-more true characters as they play out a drama on the high plains of a cattle ranch Utah right after the war. This book worked on all levels, resonating with me since the macho farm vs the town pretenders are brought into stark relief. Two bachelor brothers have stayed on the ranch that their sophisticated, eastern parents had migrated to, then left to the sons as they returned to civilization. The older Phil cottoned to the rough lifestyle, yet educated and keenly intelligent, his personality dominates the land, his workers and even the town. He is stubborn, principled, irrational, and plain old mean-spirited. The conflict arises when his brother marries, late in life. The point of view shifts between the new wife, Rose, her son, and the two brothers. Savage uses their points of view most cleverly, revealing their thoughts by the action and the dialogue. Ultimately this is a revenge story, and it takes the reader into strange and satisfying places, such as Phil’s loneliness in the world that just can’t live up to his standards. He’s rude, crude and (purposely) un-civilized. In fact he rebels against civilization, seeking a purity of living that he tries to bend to his authority. The battles are psychological, very real to my personal life experiences, and very deeply satisfying in the best that novels can do for us. I love novels that teach me of a time a place, and the western planes of Utah, after the great war, was beautifully and clearly drawn. I found the animal care and ranch hand personalities most satisfying. p. 7: “Phil never used the tub, for he did not like it known he bathed. Instead, he bathed once a month in a deep hole in the creek…” Much, much more will be told of this strange habit. p. 230: Peter, the boy, away from home at school observes “…they knew of the men moving up and down the back stairway to the Red-White-and-Blue Rooms, of the prowl car of the chief of police turning a corner on some unspeakable errand.” There’s a lot in that one sentence. p. 238: The un-repentant prejudice and un-restrained racism of Phil runs throughout: “…rather than sell to these shysters, Phil let the junk collect and the hides dry and shrink on the fence until he go around to the burning. Phil had nothing against the right kind of Jews, Jews of intellect and talent, so long as he didn’t have to mix with them.” p.253: “Some boys- bored, disappointed in what they had hoped to be a more exciting sport- tortured or clubbed the creatures, and even that was sometimes strangely unsatisfying. Just so one learns how hollow is the pursuit of pleasure”. This has been my experience as boy growing up in the country. p. 265: “…there were two kinds of women, good women and bad women. Bad women had not more right to respect than animals, and as animals they were used and discussed.” p. 261: Here’s an insight into Phil, a metaphor of how his soul and body collide. “…the sleeve of his blue chambray shirt to slip far up on his wrist revealing skin that was shockingly white, such skin as might be found under a stone. How red and chapped his hands were, his worldly, scratched and damaged hands.” p. 262: A young man’s ego explained. “…his only achievement, so far, was that he had grown up, he was jealous of his dignity. When he found out who had done the thing, he had some plans of his own, and don’t you forget it.”

  16. 5 out of 5

    Libby

    The title and a GR friend’s review are what attracted me to this novel by Thomas Savage. It opens up with a bang, a detailed sequence of castrating calves on the Burbank ranch in Montana. Don’t let the brutality of this opening put you off. Published first in 1967 and part of what Annie Proulx labels along with Savage’s first two novels as “late novels from the golden age of American landscape fiction,” this is an incredible and worthy read. Savage writes expertly and with insight into human beh The title and a GR friend’s review are what attracted me to this novel by Thomas Savage. It opens up with a bang, a detailed sequence of castrating calves on the Burbank ranch in Montana. Don’t let the brutality of this opening put you off. Published first in 1967 and part of what Annie Proulx labels along with Savage’s first two novels as “late novels from the golden age of American landscape fiction,” this is an incredible and worthy read. Savage writes expertly and with insight into human behavior. Thirty-eight-year-old George and his forty-year-old brother, Phil run the Burbank ranch. Mom and Dad, better known as The Old Gent and The Old Lady, have retired to hotel rooms in Salt Lake City. A novel of contrasts set against a beautiful and harsh landscape, Savage sinks the reader into a particular place, a particular time. In the 1920s, the horse is still more important than the automobile and the ranch hand is that era’s measure of manliness. How well can he ride or break horses? How tough is he? How long can he work and how hard? Phil resides in the upper echelons of manliness measuring. He’s the only one that doesn’t wear gloves to do the arduous labor required on a ranch. Because of that, his hands are a mess. Whereas Phil is tall and intelligent, George is stout and plodding. Everything that Phil is, George is not. For all that Phil seems to be a bright and shining star, I quickly learned that Phil has a glitch in the personality department. Phil likes to get a person’s goat, makes jokes that leave another person humiliated, and sometimes, out of a perverse streak of meanness, he cuts cruelly with words, driving a stake into the heart. He’s a perceptive bully, knowing just when to strike, knowing what is the most likely thing to say that will embarrass a person, will bring them low. And yet Phil is popular and well liked among the ranch hands. Over the years, he and George have settled into a pattern that seems to suit both of them; they still sleep in their boyhood room. George is nothing, if not tolerant. However, it is the willing, never naysaying George who will ‘upset the applecart’ by marrying a widow woman from town. Rose Gordon has a young son, Peter, who speaks with a lisp and loves books, especially the medical books his father left to him. When Rose enters his boyhood home, inflexible Phil becomes a somber cloud, a thundercloud that simmers along the horizon stocking up on lightning bolts. What I like most about this book is the psychological depth with which Phil and Peter are drawn. Peter is a strange boy who has been bullied a lot and has thereby earned skills at distancing and being cold when it is necessary. Phil’s aversion to sissies (and he is convinced Peter is a sissy) reveals his repressed homosexuality, another element that seems to be a major driver of Phil’s personality. It’s a kettle with some colorful fish in it and one of them is venomous. I didn’t understand the book title at first. Not even with the epigraph from Psalms 22:20 “Deliver my soul from the sword, My darling from the power of the dog.” By the end of the book, I understood it well. Savage renders it powerfully!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Doug H

    My Favorite Book of The Year So Far! (Pile of rotting fence posts on a Montana ranch) “Under there gophers were safe from badgers who wished to eat them whole. There cottontails were safe from coyotes who worried the poles with their paws and teeth. … It was a sport of ranch boys to rout out the gophers, the cottontails, the mice - to exhaust themselves lifting pole after pole to expose the hiding place of some terrified creature grown too confident. How moving it was to see it cowering, the eyes My Favorite Book of The Year So Far! (Pile of rotting fence posts on a Montana ranch) “Under there gophers were safe from badgers who wished to eat them whole. There cottontails were safe from coyotes who worried the poles with their paws and teeth. … It was a sport of ranch boys to rout out the gophers, the cottontails, the mice - to exhaust themselves lifting pole after pole to expose the hiding place of some terrified creature grown too confident. How moving it was to see it cowering, the eyes mad with fear, limbs trembling, hoping by stillness it might yet again escape.” And so it goes in this strangely little-known literary masterpiece of psychological tension set in 1920's Montana where a sexually-repressed ranch owner quietly claws at and bullies his brother's newlywed wife and socially outcast son. I haven't been this excited about stumbling across a truly great writer who has fallen into relative obscurity in a long time. Some reviewers place him with Wallace Stegner, but I haven't read any Stegner yet so I can't say whether I agree with that. For me, John Steinbeck comes to mind (but with Big Sky Country in place of The Dust Bowl and The Salinas Valley). I say that because of the great landscape descriptions, the deep loneliness of the characters, and the many crushed and broken dreams. While ranch hands anticipate the delivery of dream goods alongside their orders of gloves from the Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward "Wish Book", the outcast son pastes scrap magazine images of a happier life in his secret "book of dreams", and the new wife's own hope for happiness slowly fades. The characters are all complex and deeply developed. All of them. Even the minor characters have interior lives. I even pitied Phil, the bitch. Imagine that. Sounds depressing? Well, maybe. But it's also awesome. "I'm only interested in stories that are about the crushing of the human heart." ― Richard Yates 5 stars and a direct jump onto my All Time Favorites list.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Favorite read of 2018 but also going on my favorite list. What's that, "loose lips sink ships?" Therefore, I will say nothing in fear I would give away the characters and the book. Read it for yourself. You will either love the opening sentence or be repulsed. Update 8/2021: https://www.goldderby.com/article/202... Update 11/20/2021: I saw the movie on the big screen last night. I’m not a movie buff at all but I’ll have to say the movie was excellent. The 4 main characters could not have been any Favorite read of 2018 but also going on my favorite list. What's that, "loose lips sink ships?" Therefore, I will say nothing in fear I would give away the characters and the book. Read it for yourself. You will either love the opening sentence or be repulsed. Update 8/2021: https://www.goldderby.com/article/202... Update 11/20/2021: I saw the movie on the big screen last night. I’m not a movie buff at all but I’ll have to say the movie was excellent. The 4 main characters could not have been any better. But, let me make clear, I would not have enjoyed the movie as much if I hadn’t read the book. The book explained so much that I knew exactly what was going on but otherwise I would have been confused. So again, my advice read the book and don’t cheat by flipping ahead. The book is a slow burn and the movie is too. Movie can be seen on Netflix on December 1st. So grab the book then watch the movie. Husband’s quote of the night “wonder what this producer/writer could do with a Cormac book?” Well this is interesting, just learned the boy in the movie is also the boy in the movie, The Road. This was also a convo last night how the movie The Road is so much better having read the book. Surprisingly, many of the scenes are taken from the book. There was one specific scene I enjoyed in the book and they included it but not exactly how savage presented it. Update: second read excellent even if I knew the details and had seen movie. Calculated from first word to the last word.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Pedro

    After an opening scene involving a castration I could swear I was in for my first five star rating of 2020. I was immediately drawn into the story. I found the writing mesmerising, and the idea of two brothers as opposites, although not new (not even in the 1960s), seemed fascinating. I couldn’t wait to know where Savage was taking me. Characters were (well) introduced. Tension started building up. On top of that tension there was a constant eerie sense of doom and I realised I was literally holdi After an opening scene involving a castration I could swear I was in for my first five star rating of 2020. I was immediately drawn into the story. I found the writing mesmerising, and the idea of two brothers as opposites, although not new (not even in the 1960s), seemed fascinating. I couldn’t wait to know where Savage was taking me. Characters were (well) introduced. Tension started building up. On top of that tension there was a constant eerie sense of doom and I realised I was literally holding my breath. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere Savage decided to do something I tend to find really distracting; a background story. At this point, at least, not feeling any tension at all, I was finally able to breathe again. I really didn’t need any memories of their childhood, younger years and one dimensional parents. I wanted forward motion. Throughout the whole book I experienced the tension building up, then being released. In and out, on and off, yin and yang, just like Phil and George. And I was not even surprised when Phil felt so annoyed about Rose and her son’s presence. Even I felt they were a nuisance in the brothers lives which is a paradoxical feeling of mine because nothing would have even happened if Phil and George had stayed sleeping in the same room and fixing fences and machinery as a daytime job forever. None of the characters were ready for one another and the tension created around their conflicted relationships were the highlight of this story for me. The more I think about it the more I’m sure this story didn’t need dinner parties, governors, tortured animals and housekeepers’ magazines. Sometimes I needed less. Sometimes I wanted more. The castration scene was really really good though. Even necessary. Another thing that kept on bugging me was how nuanced everything was (especially about one of the brothers). I know this was published in the sixties but just a little bit more clarity would have been good. Of course Annie Proulx had to mention homosexuality in her afterword but I didn’t really buy this marketing strategy. At times while reading this book I was reminded of my feelings about Kent Haruf’s exceptional Plainsong because, once again, I didn’t want anything bad to happen to the characters. Crazy how we can fall in love for a character, isn’t it? So much to think about… So much to discuss… By the end we get to know the meaning of The Power of the Dog, the strength of the winds of change and the compulsive force of fate. This is a small world indeed. A world where (some) people get what they deserve.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    4.5, rounded up. Like I suspect most people coming to this in 2021, I was impelled to read it due to the upcoming film adaptation by Jane Campion, which has already received rave reviews and numerous awards on the festival circuit. Prior to that, I had never heard of the book or author, although have learned that my mother - who grew up in Lemhi, Idaho, as did the young Savage for a few years - knew some of his relatives (on his mother's Yearian side). The book itself is a slow burning ember, fil 4.5, rounded up. Like I suspect most people coming to this in 2021, I was impelled to read it due to the upcoming film adaptation by Jane Campion, which has already received rave reviews and numerous awards on the festival circuit. Prior to that, I had never heard of the book or author, although have learned that my mother - who grew up in Lemhi, Idaho, as did the young Savage for a few years - knew some of his relatives (on his mother's Yearian side). The book itself is a slow burning ember, filled with palpable dread and psychological nuances that culminate in one of the most unexpected, shocking, and yet perfect climaxes ever. The characterizations and language are particularly well done, and my only minor quibble is that several times the author will unexpectedly jump ahead or change topics, and then backtrack ... often I thought maybe the book was missing pages, or that I had inexplicably jumped pages. Regardless, it is a fine novel, one that I hope/trust will find more admirers once the film becomes more widely available. PS _ the afterward by Annie Proulx in this edition is especially fine and provides much needed explication for some of the more esoteric nuances.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    I don’t really know how to describe this book but ruthless comes to mind. There is one obviously ruthless person throughout this story and then there is another, more slowly revealed. The weather and the landscape (although undoubtedly beautiful) are also ruthless. The tension is ratcheted way up there by the end. The ending - a great one in my opinion. Now I will watch the movie and see how Hollywood interpreted it. I am expecting some terrific acting.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    I was all set to give this book a 4 star rating, then changed it to 5 after I read the last page, then thought about it some more and finally decided that for me, 4 stars is correct. So, 4.5 if GR would get off it's butt and give us the half stars we keep asking for. Anyway, back to the book. I hate bullies, and I love revenge and the kind of people who exact their own form of private justice, both in fiction and in real life. The real west, with it's loneliness caused by both landscape and the t I was all set to give this book a 4 star rating, then changed it to 5 after I read the last page, then thought about it some more and finally decided that for me, 4 stars is correct. So, 4.5 if GR would get off it's butt and give us the half stars we keep asking for. Anyway, back to the book. I hate bullies, and I love revenge and the kind of people who exact their own form of private justice, both in fiction and in real life. The real west, with it's loneliness caused by both landscape and the type of people who live there, the stereotypical "cowboy" type of man, comes through this book to skewer the ideas of what we have come to expect. The setting of this novel is Montana in the 1920's, when things were changing rapidly. The open range was giving way to gates and fences, cars were replacing the horse, the Indians had been removed to reservations. George and Phil were wealthy ranch owners, sharing the work and responsibilities of a large holding. Then George marries a widow with a teen-age son, and secrets and resentments come to the fore with Phil, who makes their life miserable with subtle comments and actions. The character developement is slow and sure, the tension grows, the ending is very satisfying. I like this author, he knows how to tell a story. Big thanks to Doug for recommending this one, I enjoyed it. I'm going to look for more by Thomas Savage, he deserves a resurgence.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Thomas Savage's novel The Power of the Dog is a psychological drama set in a 1920's Montana ranching community. Savage's deep insight into human nature and the light and dark in all of us is obvious throughout this tale. Phil - "One reason he hated booze, he was afraid of it, afraid of what he might tell." "How does one man get the power to make the rest see in themselves what he sees them? Where does he get the authority? But from somewhere he does get it." "But oh, how Phil knew how to touch the Thomas Savage's novel The Power of the Dog is a psychological drama set in a 1920's Montana ranching community. Savage's deep insight into human nature and the light and dark in all of us is obvious throughout this tale. Phil - "One reason he hated booze, he was afraid of it, afraid of what he might tell." "How does one man get the power to make the rest see in themselves what he sees them? Where does he get the authority? But from somewhere he does get it." "But oh, how Phil knew how to touch the sore place. Lord, how he knew how to lift a scab." George - "I used to think that's all I had, was money, until we sat here and laughed and talked. Isn't it funny that even when I'm alone now, I feel so good." Rose - "She felt suffocated in the void between her intention and her ability, and shattered by loneliness." "She couldn't be anything unless someone believed in her, nothing at all. She could be nothing but what someone believed she was." I can see a bit of myself in each of these characters. I can be charismatic when called for, I like to get my way, I enjoy being with those who love me, I doubt myself on occasion and in the past have at times looked to others to help define me. We humans are complex, disorderly creatures. I appreciate how Savage slowly and subtly reveals Phil's character and motivations through the course of the novel. He uses this technique to build and sustain tension throughout. Savage also deftly conveys the sense of place and time, showcasing the ranch and the character of a small town. His foreshadowing is delicate and precise. And his prose is pitch perfect--in places short and succinct, in places quite sinuous. ". . .there always followed on the heels of the vanished sun a stunning silence, an unearthly hush, and how into it crept little sounds--as night-things creep into the dark--the whispers of willow leaves and branches kissing, touching, water caressing and fondling the smooth stones in the creek . . ." This brilliant character study is an absorbing and compelling read with a satisfying conclusion. Thank you to my GR friend James for bringing this novel to my attention.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    Let this be a surprise. Do yourself that favor, if possible, and remember this was first published in 1967, 50 yrs. ago. In light of today, that is significant and another reason to justify the word powerful when referring to this novel. Find your own way into this book rather than have another reader give you their experience first. [Although the GR reviews are well written and I didn't notice any spoilers in those I read.] The psychology is deeply layered and perfectly developed and needs to s Let this be a surprise. Do yourself that favor, if possible, and remember this was first published in 1967, 50 yrs. ago. In light of today, that is significant and another reason to justify the word powerful when referring to this novel. Find your own way into this book rather than have another reader give you their experience first. [Although the GR reviews are well written and I didn't notice any spoilers in those I read.] The psychology is deeply layered and perfectly developed and needs to soak in. Oh! it is brilliant, strategic. Savage doesn't so much write a novel that unfolds as much as he creates intensity; conducting wonderful little sparks across your cortex. You can feel the power of his novel gathering, just like he describes the clouds moving across the Montana plains, the great columns of clouds collecting against the spine of the Rockies; billowing darkening towers trapped within the scene, dropping heavy, charged and threatening. Foreboding. Reading the reviews after I finished, I realized that people have different takes, as expected, but the timing, the subconscious explorations Savage almosts encourages with what he doesn't spell out, are priceless IF you are lucky enough to let the author throw the punch himself. Reviewers that said they saw this coming are either lying *wink-wink* or phenomenal predictors of character. I would suggest that when you get to the ending -- the powerful didn't-see-that-one-coming ending (so beautifully set up and yet so surprising) -- pause and ponder the possibilities that Savage sets up, the psychological underpinnings, the writing so as-if-you-were-there, then let the weight of it settle. You will look back at a very different book than what you started with. This book was suggested by a GR friend. What a gift and what an overlooked author. I purposely wrote this review before reading Annie Proulx's afterword, not wanting to regurgitate her intelligent thoughts .... which I might regret.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    Psycho goes Western, young man. Brotherly love goes under when a Femme Fatale and her son ride into town.... EDIT, DEC. 2021: Weird to see that I read (and mostly forgot) this book in 2010. Seemed weird, too, that it was so unknown to the reading world. Well, Jane Campion's movie did for it what I failed to do for it -- brought it back to the limelight. You go, Jane! Psycho goes Western, young man. Brotherly love goes under when a Femme Fatale and her son ride into town.... EDIT, DEC. 2021: Weird to see that I read (and mostly forgot) this book in 2010. Seemed weird, too, that it was so unknown to the reading world. Well, Jane Campion's movie did for it what I failed to do for it -- brought it back to the limelight. You go, Jane!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lawyer

    The Power of the Dog: A Most Different Western Novel Montana, 1925. Brothers Phil and George Burbank own the biggest cattle spread in the state. They have shared the same room since they were boys. Phil is the man the cow hands admire. George is the quiet one, a bit of a bore. But a cruel streak runs through Phil. The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage creates an unnerving tension in the opening chapters of the novel. On the surface, Phil Burbank is a successful rancher. He is a man's man. In the r The Power of the Dog: A Most Different Western Novel Montana, 1925. Brothers Phil and George Burbank own the biggest cattle spread in the state. They have shared the same room since they were boys. Phil is the man the cow hands admire. George is the quiet one, a bit of a bore. But a cruel streak runs through Phil. The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage creates an unnerving tension in the opening chapters of the novel. On the surface, Phil Burbank is a successful rancher. He is a man's man. In the ranch crew's bunk house all the younger hands seek to impress him and aspire to emulate him. Phil excels in all things required of a trail boss in the harsh and unforgiving world that comprises the Burbank empire . Phil is the brilliant brother. The tough one. In the ranch house, the young cow hands seek his favor, his attention. They aspire to emulate him. Phil Burbank possesses all the toughness required to run a cattleman's empire. Weakness is a quality he will not tolerate in anyone. Not slower, more cautious brother George. Not even his own parents, "The Old Gent" and his mother the "Lady." Why the elder Burbanks came West from the Bramin world of Boston is something of a mystery. They have never fit in with the surrounding ranching community. Mr. and Mrs. Burbank left the ranch in the charge of their two sons in 1900, taking residence in a Salt Lake City hotel. George failed at college, while Phil excelled there. George is Phil's frequent target for barbed sarcasm, and thinly veiled insults of what Phil considers George's inferiority, inappropriate for any Burbank. Yet, George complements Phil's presence at the ranch by handling the business end of ranch management. Thomas Savage's tone grows increasingly dark through the careful plotting of this story. Though not overtly chilling in a relentless sense, there are moments so meticululously crafted that Savage is able to raise the short hairs on the back of the reader's neck. In viewing the story of these two brothers one cannot help but think of Cain and Abel. Yet Phil emerges even more calculated in his callous view of life. The innocent foils to Phil Burbank's acid tongue is the Gordon family in nearby Herndon. John and Rose Gordon are decent people. Gordon is the town Doctor. He and Rose have a rather effeminate son, Peter. Phil Burbank sneers at the Gordon's, all of whom he considers weaklings. His berating Gordon and Peter, whom he labels a sissy lead to Dr. Gordon's taking his own life. Rose, the Widow Gordon, is left to run a small hotel and eatery, The Red Mill. Peter is her right hand, an excellent cook, and co-host with his Mother. Ironically, it is George, in all ways decent, who comes to court Rose. She accepts him, not knowing that George's brother Phil led her husband to commit suicide. It is Rose's marriage to George that propels the plot of The Power of the Dog. Phil sets out to destroy the marriage. George, oblivious to Phil's tactics, is unaware that Phil secretly torments Rose to the point of keeping her in a constant state of terror. Young Peter becomes a pivotal character in Savage's enthralling novel of psychological insight. Peter can see what George cannot and will become his Mother's protector. At the same time, Phil becomes more impressed with the young man's willingness to learn the rigors of life on the range leading to an unlikely bond between the older man and the younger. Savage keeps the reader on the edge of his seat throughout this taut character driven novel. Originally viewed as a western novel upon its publication in 1967, clearly this is a much deeper and complex story than one of sibling rivalry. Rather this is a masterful story of repressed sexuality. And it is Phil Burbank's homophobic behavior that is his own cloak of self denial that leads to the stunning conclusion of this novel. For those drawn to novels of great characterization and nerve wracking plotting, The Power of the Dog will be an irresistible read. Track this one down. Prepare to be mesmerized.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rod

    **Re-post 8/26/21: I just learned today that the book has been adapted into a film directed by Jane Campion and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, hitting theaters in November and Netflix in December.** Martin Ritt's Hud (1963) is, in my opinion, one of our finest American films. It captures a unique, lonesome small-town modern western mood with beautiful, stark, black & white cinematography that wouldn’t meet its match until eight years later with another Larry McMurtry adaptation, Peter Bogdanovich **Re-post 8/26/21: I just learned today that the book has been adapted into a film directed by Jane Campion and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, hitting theaters in November and Netflix in December.** Martin Ritt's Hud (1963) is, in my opinion, one of our finest American films. It captures a unique, lonesome small-town modern western mood with beautiful, stark, black & white cinematography that wouldn’t meet its match until eight years later with another Larry McMurtry adaptation, Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show. The Power of the Dog, like Hud, is a tense family drama taking place on a cattle ranch in a relatively modern (in this case, the 1920s) western setting, featuring two men who are diametrically at odds, with a skinny teenage boy and a mother figure between them. So yes, I was immediately intrigued and procured a copy posthaste. Having devoured it with pleasure, I can testify that if the Larry McMurtry novel Horseman, Pass By, upon which Hud is based, had been as good as its own film adaptation, it would have been as good a novel as The Power of the Dog. It isn't. It's very good, but Thomas Savage's novel is on a whole other level of brilliance. The Power of the Dog centers around bachelor brothers and wealthy ranch partners Phil and George Burbank, both in the neighborhood of forty. Phil is lean, shrewd, intellectual, and what would later be called "macho." George is stocky, slow of thought (although not stupid), unscholarly, and essentially decent. George is often the butt of his slightly older brother's mocking derision (Phil's usual nickname for George is "Fatso"), but the two are nevertheless very close, sharing the same bedroom that they have had since children. The parents—"the Old Gent" and the "the Old Lady"—have retired from ranch life to a hotel suite in Salt Lake City, leaving the brothers in charge. It is intimated but not explicitly stated that difficulties with Phil led to their departure. Trouble comes into Phil's paradise when George meets and quickly marries Rose, the widow of the kindly, yet alcoholic, small-town doctor who Phil, in his lacerating cruelty and annoyance at any kind of weakness, had publicly excoriated in a chance meeting a few years before, shortly before the doctor ended his own life at the end of a noose. Phil dislikes Rose intensely; he sees her as a gold-digging schemer, or perhaps he just hates women—or perhaps there is jealousy there—but in any case Phil proceeds to quietly make Rose's life as intolerable as he can. Not through what he says, but what he doesn't say. He never addresses Rose by name, rarely if ever speaks to her, and basically acts as if she doesn’t exist. When Rose plays the piano, Phil sits in his room and plays the banjo, playing the same piece she is clumsily practicing, yet he plays it perfectly. When she stops playing, he stops; she resumes, and he resumes. George naïvely maintains that Phil's taciturnity is just "his way," but eventually Phil's gaslighting starts to take its toll on Rose, and she begins drinking surreptitiously to attenuate her stress headaches. During the summer, Rose and George are joined on the ranch by Rose's teenage son, Peter, who Phil also gives the cold shoulder to, deriding him among the ranch hands by referring to him as "Miss Nancy." Peter is a thin, sensitive lad, bookish and speaking with a lisp, and sometimes he helps his mother by making paper flowers, so his very existence is intolerable to the intensely homophobic and self-consciously masculine Phil. However, despite his tenderfoot appearance and mincing demeanor, it is obvious that Peter possesses innate guts and strength of character, so much so that even Phil has to admit it to himself. The two start to form an unlikely bond, with Phil introducing the boy to horse riding and cowboy skills, becoming something of a mentor. Unsurprisingly, Phil sees this relationship merely as an opportunity to further drive a wedge between George and Rose by having Peter form a friendship with his mother’s tormentor (or is there something else that Phil desires?), but Phil underestimates Peter's intelligence, insight, and sang-froid. The fact that Phil is a closeted gay man is a subtext that courses through the entire novel. The plot device that a virulent homophobe is a closeted homosexual has become a standard trope, but it was not that common when the novel was originally published in 1967. In any case, it is handled with precise psychological insight and such subtlety that many readers in the late 1960s may have missed it entirely. The plot is deftly crafted, with certain aspects presaged early on, but culminating in a way that will probably be completely unsuspected until the final few pages roll around. It’s an engrossing story with highly compelling characters, and powerfully written with great insight into human nature. Savage’s landscape descriptions are often beautiful, and he evokes a realistic western setting without trying too hard to make it a “western.” Truly an unheralded modern classic.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bob Brinkmeyer

    3.5 stars Thomas Savage’s The Power of the Dog is certainly one of strangest—and most intriguing—literary Westerns I’ve read in a long time (and I’ve read a lot of them). Part of its strangeness is that it twists and distorts so many of the tropes of Westerns that the novel in the end is hardly recognizable as a Western at all, though it remains a fascinating take on Westerns. I wasn’t surprised, given all this, to read Annie Proulx’s comment in the afterward to the edition I read that The Power 3.5 stars Thomas Savage’s The Power of the Dog is certainly one of strangest—and most intriguing—literary Westerns I’ve read in a long time (and I’ve read a lot of them). Part of its strangeness is that it twists and distorts so many of the tropes of Westerns that the novel in the end is hardly recognizable as a Western at all, though it remains a fascinating take on Westerns. I wasn’t surprised, given all this, to read Annie Proulx’s comment in the afterward to the edition I read that The Power of the Dog is “virtually unknown . . . even to specialists in western literature.” (That has no doubt changed somewhat with Jane Campion’s recent film.) Certainly the most striking aspect of the novel, in terms of the genre of Westerns, is how little of it takes place in nature’s wilds—or even outdoors, for that matter. While Westerns typically depict characters struggling to survive in harsh, unforgiving landscapes, The Power of the Dog takes place almost entirely indoors (or in cars); and indeed, there’s barely a description of the Montana landscape, so that the action could be taking place just about anywhere. Can you imagine saying that about any other novel (or film) that you consider a Western? (Campion, in contrast, goes to great, and beautiful, cinematographic lengths to establish a western setting.) Stripping away the outward manifestations of the Western, Savage focuses without distraction and clutter on several issues that shape traditional Westerns, most significantly the frightening beauty, power, and destructiveness of extreme masculinity. Unlike in the traditional Western, the focus is less on the physical than on the psychological, with the claustrophobic setting both highlighting the interior tensions of the characters as well as intensifying the mental duels taking place between them. At the heart of the novel is Phil Burbank who, with his brother George, runs the family ranch. Phil is in many ways a fitting Western hero: he’s immensely adept in cattle and ranch skills (the opening scene is a stunner), possesses eagle eyesight, speaks few words (unless he’s telling stories to the ranch hands), and is immensely uncomfortable in social settings. He rarely washes. He doesn’t wear gloves no matter what the weather and no matter what work he's doing. He won’t turn on the light during the day—ever—and won’t let people see him lying down. He doesn’t drink because he always wants to be in complete control of himself. He’s also immensely learned and well-read, though these are mostly private obsessions. Were this 1850 or thereabouts, Phil most likely would be in his element. But it’s 1925 and modernity is making inroads into the West, making obsolete many of Phil’s skills. He can’t really go it alone as a rancher; he needs his brother George, who is more oriented toward business and domesticity, to oversee the finances and the ranch house, which is George’s domain. The male world Phil and George have comfortably established (they still sleep in the same bedroom), however, threatens to come undone when George unexpectedly marries an innkeeper named Rose, who moves to the ranch with her rather effeminate, at least outwardly, son Peter (he’s skilled at making paper flowers). Phil knows what’s at stake and his response to Rose is almost visceral: “She! She could mean the end of the world, Phil knew it.” How Phil strives to maintain the ranch and its male-centered dynamics, even at the cost of destroying others, becomes the heart of the novel, with George, Rose, and Peter being drawn into his orbit and his psychological control. Cruelty abounds. Homoerotic forces swirl dangerously close to the surface. Were this a traditional Western Phil would face physical challenges such as rustlers or Indians, but the challenges here are those of the sitting room. It’s not quite Chekhov but it’s pushing in that direction. Savage effectively weaves a complex, powerful story, even though he’s not the most accomplished stylist. His prose is competent, more like the work of the plodding George than that of the astonishing Phil. Despite this, the overall effect is big and bold.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andy Marr

    Absolutely brilliant, though undoubtedly a contender for the crappiest synopsis in history. Crap not only because it betrays the fate of one of the book's main characters long before Fate finally arrives to greet him around the 33% mark, but also because - even more annoyingly - it allows us to guess the ending before the book's even half way through. Sure, the 'unlikely protector' and the 'devastating twist of an ending' would have been entirely unexpected if I hadn't been told from the first m Absolutely brilliant, though undoubtedly a contender for the crappiest synopsis in history. Crap not only because it betrays the fate of one of the book's main characters long before Fate finally arrives to greet him around the 33% mark, but also because - even more annoyingly - it allows us to guess the ending before the book's even half way through. Sure, the 'unlikely protector' and the 'devastating twist of an ending' would have been entirely unexpected if I hadn't been told from the first moment to expect them. As it was, I managed to guess the 'unlikely protector' almost as soon as they made their first appearance, and I was so fully prepared for the 'devastating twist' that, when it came, I simply shrugged my shoulders and grunted.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    “Brothers Phil and George Burbank, wealthy ranchers in 1920s Montana, have slept in the same bedroom for 40 years. Together they manage the day to-day running of their huge cattle farm, but while George is steady and decent, Phil is a whirlwind of malign energy: a skilled reader and craftsman, he’s also a vicious bully and outspoken homophobe. When George marries local widow Rose and moves her on to the ranch, Phil is appalled, and sets out to destroy the newcomer and her “sissy” son. Optimistic “Brothers Phil and George Burbank, wealthy ranchers in 1920s Montana, have slept in the same bedroom for 40 years. Together they manage the day to-day running of their huge cattle farm, but while George is steady and decent, Phil is a whirlwind of malign energy: a skilled reader and craftsman, he’s also a vicious bully and outspoken homophobe. When George marries local widow Rose and moves her on to the ranch, Phil is appalled, and sets out to destroy the newcomer and her “sissy” son. Optimistically billed as the next Stoner, this 1967 reissue is in fact the better novel: Savage has constructed, against scenery “vast and hostile to individual hope”, a rich and challenging psychodrama, based on brilliant characterisation – particularly of Rose, for whom living becomes “so narrow that she brooded nights on what to wear the next day”, and the monstrous Phil. With its echoes of East of Eden and Brokeback Mountain, this satisfyingly complex story deserves another shot at rounding up public admiration.” https://www.theguardian.com/books/201... I kept thinking that this would have made a great short story. It’s a fine novel, but that’s a fish altogether. It has those necessary elements for a hard little gem of a story. Chekhov's gun like the guinea pig in the Black Mirror episode, “Crocodile” ************************************* Generously provided by

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