On the heels of her 2008 debut novel, Girls in Trucks, Katie Crouch’s Men and Dogs echoes with the familiar drawl of a discontented and displaced Southerner. The story’s protagonist is middle-aged, Charleston-raised Hannah Legare, who made a move to the West Coast to try and shed the baggage of her father-gone-missing family and the subsequent attempts to sugarcoat the mess. She is, however, continually plagued by the unresolved mysteries of her father’s disappearance and her mother’s quick remarriage to his filthy-rich replacement.
The semi-scandal surrounding her gay brother, coupled with a lack of closure in her relationships, are just fuel for the fire that burns Hannah’s bridges and drives her further and further away from home. But a life apart from her less-than-perfect family situation does not provide the answers she seeks. When her livelihood and marriage in San Francisco go south, Hannah falls from grace—literally. A traumatic injury, a failed business and the inconclusiveness of her family’s story line eventually land Hannah—somewhat unwillingly—back on the front stoop of her mother and stepfather’s Southern plantation home. Despite her self-destructive and escapist behavior, she realizes it is the very people and places of her childhood that beckon her to sit and visit with her own ghosts. She may not arrive at the end she desires, but Hannah will learn something by revisiting the place from which she so speedily fled.
Crouch’s writing quite clearly reflects her own history—she is a former Southerner who can’t shed the remnants of a sweet-tea-soaked past—but her perspective is thoughtful and multidimensional. Her protagonist demonstrates a real skepticism for a culture that hides rumors and ruckus behind sweater sets and pearls, while her prose exhibits both an understanding and a distrust of the syrupy-sweet culture in which she herself was steeped.
Cory Bordonaro is a freelance writer, crafter and barista in Birmingham, Alabama.