» Book Review
Review: Origami Dogs by Noley Reid
Autumn House Press, 2023.
Paperback, $17.95, 216 pages.
Origami Dogs, Noley Reid’s fourth book and her second short story collection, is not about dogs. Through Reid’s clean, often razor-sharp prose, the characters’ animal companions trudge alongside their emotional turmoil, both witnesses and hostages to the ways they love and harm each other.
Still, even as the animals are not the focus of these stories, they often serve as vessels, important points of connection that convey the characters’ emotions. In the title story, a young girl, Iris, is overwhelmed both by working in her mother’s breeding farm and by her first experiences with boys. After losing her virginity leads her to be ignored and neglected by her two romantic prospects, Iris names every dog and pup in the barn, breaking her mother’s rule to only refer to them by numbers. The pain of her own objectification leads her to break the cycle of distance and humanize those around her, reclaiming her own agency in the process. Similarly, in “Movement & Bones”, even as the narrator, a recent amputee, struggles to connect with her husband, her dog mirrors her movements, offering physical comfort and also representing the barriers between them: “He moves his body up against mine, as much as the dogs in between our legs allow.”
The connection between human and animal doesn’t always provide consolation. In “The Mud Pit,” when the narrator’s boyfriend’s old dog, Kizzy, passes away, she offers to replace her as an emotional safe haven, but he rejects the offer. “You can’t be my safe haven from you,” he says. Indeed, there is no safe haven for these characters: their relationships float on the page, tinged with melancholy and an unfulfilled sense of longing. Devotion, from human to human, manifests as a heavy weight that the characters struggle to carry.
In the more experimental second-person narrative “How Trees Sleep,” Reid carefully paints the portrayal of a young girl lying next to her mother, stopping herself from asking more of her. And in “Once It’s Gone,” a husband grapples with his wife’s past infidelity, having raised a child that isn’t his. As he contemplates leaving his family, he watches an elderly woman from the neighborhood feed a group of ferocious stray cats. “I don’t stay to see her scared to cry out for fear of chasing them away,” he says. Instead, he returns home, since, as all these characters, he must sit with his hunger.
Amidst the longing for human connection, perhaps inevitably, parenting emerges as a major theme. The narrator of “Once It’s Gone” is partially motivated by his hurt over his stepdaughter’s decision to have an abortion—not out of a religious stance, but because, as he says to his wife, “it could have been ours.” It, the nameless fetus, could have been what the narrator craved, something to fulfill his desire for a deep relationship. Similarly, the protagonist of “The Mud Pit” hopes to use her unborn child as a way to connect with a dead childhood friend. Another piece, “No Matter Her Leaving,” features a father grieving his runaway daughter, waiting alongside her old dog Malone. In her absence, the dog withers. Before the narrator is forced to put him down, he watches Malone put his nose inside a bowl and glimpses a trace of hope: “Have I found something he can love?”
This question looms over the collection. The characters search, untiring, for the love they crave, whether from a distant partner or a conservative mother. When the narrator’s daughter returns in “No Matter Her Leaving,” the piece—and by extension, the collection—ends on a note of hope. Brimming underneath, though, there is still the sense of something inherently tragic, in an unrelenting, animalesque sort of love.