“A Love Letter to Death & Suffering”
Set in modern-day America during a Soviet-style apocalyptic collapse, King of Dogs is an astute example of how deeply meaningful motifs are oftentimes best expressed through powerful narratives with compelling characters. Andrew Edwards proves without a doubt that modern fiction can be much more than just an entertaining story and is a highly effective medium for delivering profound truths to readers.
The novel follows the story of Grayson, an Orthodox Christian and warrior-philosopher who is equally skilled at bushcraft and guerilla warfare as he seeks to fulfill a death-bed promise to his closest friend to watch over his younger brother Phil and his wife Sarah who are expecting a child. When a violent militia group burns through the town they are held up in, Grayson is separated from his quarry and forced to go on a dangerous manhunt amidst the chaotic series of events unfolding around him. As the world continues to decline, Grayson must enter into hell on earth as he fights (physically, mentally, and spiritually) to fulfill his friend’s final request, find Phil and Sarah, and get them to safety. As one might expect, a myriad of deviants, opportunists, and criminals looking to capitalize on the anarchy seem hell-bent on getting in Grayson’s way, causing him to wrestle with his moral principles to complete his mission.
At its core, King of Dogs is a love letter to suffering, loss, pain, and death — the universal human experience. While it may be tempting to reduce the story down to a simple dystopian thriller, to do so would be to miss the depth of what the author is trying to communicate to his readers. We fear death and have a nihilistic view of pain and suffering. Andrew Edwards is trying to change that by showing how one can derive meaning and utility even in the face of profound loss.
Death and suffering are not presented as enemies in the story, at least not for Grayson. Death is an old friend to him, one he exhibits an extraordinarily intimate relationship with. He has learned to accept and live in harmony with pain and, in a truly heroic fashion, came to understand that ultimately death makes life worth living. To me, one sentence from the novel that represents the story’s thesis is: “Beyond terror resides God.” While early on it seems as though Grayson is searching desperately for Phil and Sarah, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that what he is searching for in all his pain is meaning, and for him, that meaning is God.
Grayson is a skilled tracker, and King of Dogs does a fantastic job of bringing out the symbolic patterns that shape his understanding of reality and being. For Grayson, all of life is a process of us tracking something. As he so eloquently states:
“Man was constituted as a hunter […] tracking is thus not only the supernal rudiment to all man’s survival and the fundamental superstructure of his experience of being but also the fountainhead of his highest achievements. […] God hunts man just as surely as man hunts God.”
For Grayson, life is a constant process of us searching for God in our suffering and God leaving “tracks” for us to find Him. This is just a taste of some of the profound symbolism this book has to offer.
King of Dogs has a sub-theme dealing with experiences with psychedelic drugs. In a slightly poetic fashion, reading the book will, in many ways, send the reader on their own acid trip as they are forced to confront some of the more surreal (albeit painful) aspects of reality. However, despite this, King of Dogs has a very sobering tone to it. I cannot say King of Dogs was fun to read. “Fun” would be a terribly inappropriate word to describe the experience of reading this book. This does not, however, mean it is not worth reading. The novel forces the reader to come to terms with many ugly truths about the realities of human experience, namely death, pain, loss, and suffering. The story is dark at times throughout (just as our own stories are dark many times throughout our lives) and exposes the reader to heavy content such as rape, murder, torture, and sex trafficking. While the author handles these difficult topics in a manner that is not overly grotesque or explicit, it does make the book quite heavy at times. This surrounds the story with an aura of gravitas that is not a flaw in any way. It is, however, important for anyone looking to pick up King of Dogs to know what they are getting into. This book is serious and contains serious content.
If you read this book just for a thrilling story, you are missing most of what Andrew Edwards offers his readers here. It may be tempting to simply skim over the philosophical tangents the book often goes off on but I would advise against this. This is where the true value of this book is to be found. King of Dogs is an exploration into the human psyche as it exposes some of life’s most traumatic and difficult experiences through the eyes of a man who has come to terms with the fact that existence itself is suffering. A reality that is known by all of us. Instead of being a book about despair in the face of certain pain, loss, and death, however, Edwards is offering his readers not a way out but a way forward. The novel is filled with rich philosophical and existential thoughts coming from the mind of Grayson (which in my estimation, are thoughts from the author himself on the matter of suffering). Although the story is thoroughly captivating, I view it more as a vehicle for the message Edwards is trying to communicate with his reader. As with any good story, the details become like background characters to the main narrative. They aren’t the message; they deliver the message. Don’t get me wrong, the story is captivating, but what makes it captivating to me is not the events that unfold but what they communicate to the reader. It isn’t just a matter of what happens next but how what happens next will impact and shape Grayson’s worldview and our own.
Readers who are familiar with the works of authors such as Viktor Frankl, Dostoevsky, and even contemporaries like Jordan Peterson, who have written extensively on the issue of human suffering, will find King of Dogs appealing. Although his style is markedly different from his predecessors, Andrew Edwards provides his own commentary on the problem of human suffering. One that is raw, challenging, and slightly disturbing at times but illuminated by a gripping and eerily plausible narrative.
King of Dogs is a unique novel. The story is truly compelling, with themes of survival, honor, warfare, and perseverance, and will resonate with most men. However, what is even more critical about this piece of literature is the truths it reveals about man’s inner life and how we each confront our mortality.
Life is suffering. This is true. But Andrew Edwards demonstrates that meaning can be found in the messiness of our existence. I highly recommend King of Dogs to anyone. It is a challenging book to read on a personal level as it forces the reader to confront the more terrifying aspects of existence. Still, it is an enriching and remarkably spiritual experience. One passage from the book points out:
“Death asks the question: what meaning will you make of your life before I take it from you?”
To me, this entire novel is essentially asking this question to its readers.
Grayson provides his answer, but we must provide our own.
A Short Excerpt from The King of Dogs
Posted with the author’s permission.
“The whole desert, apportioned half to the empty blue sky and half to the empty red basin, seemed itself to confront him now with his situation. Mute perhaps, but not indifferent, the subtle geologic message transmitted from the landscape to the particular consistency of his desires, physicality and beliefs—to his raw receiving soul, was more panentheistic conspiracy than some dead material challenge. The static moment evoked in him his own responsibility and involvement. The separation of context and character was an illusion. He was a man with no vehicle and little water scraping around in the middle of a hinterland, puzzling together bits of inference and trash. He had a vision of himself going to the river: saw himself stepping between the bank reeds and into the cold deliverance of the Colorado and felt the pure extinction of this moment as his head and shoulders went slow under the surface. The rush of the water in his ears washed away all fear and despair, all the gore and toil. These tracks will be here another day, he decided.
Phil is waiting somewhere and that’s where you need to be.
He picked up his feet and marched.
And as he marched and fell into the purity of the motion his mind stilled and expanded into a familiar sequence of thoughts: that man was constituted as a hunter, and that in the very observation-postulation-
On the material plane, the steppes and tundra, man seems the sole creature dealing in multiple moments. He is death’s own rhetorician arguing backward and forward over moments, segment- ing time to make his provisional case. And it seemed to Grayson self-evident that if the material was contingent upon the spiritual and the etheric and that if the energies and essence of God were ontologically prior to everything he might know—to the red sand disappearing underfoot and the bones in the foot, and to terror, and to whatever sacrifices he might make to quell that terror, then it must be that in time and outside time, God hunts man just as surely as man hunts God. Chasing, eluding. And this is the way of things until one finds the other again on this or some other glittering globe.”