A Dog’s Life, A Dog’s Book: On George Pelecanos’s “Buster: A Dog”

"Buster: A Dog"

George Pelecanos is a polymath who understands the Washington D.C. – area more than most authors. He was born in Washington D.C., he currently lives in Silver Springs, and he has fictionalized life in the beltway through scores of crime novels and story collections. Pelecanos’s creations are stark, also witnessed through his work as a TV writer and producer. His credits in this space include The Wire, about illegal drug trade and institutional corruption, The Deuce, about New York’s sex trade in the 1970s, and We Own This City, about police corruption.

So, how does an author of Pelecanos’s ilk write the book Buster: A Dog – told from a dog’s point of view? Can an author who writes about police corruption and drug dealing conjure the gritty world of Washington D.C. through a dog’s eyes? Yes, he can.

Pelecanos accomplishes this feat through Buster’s innocent and honest perspective, which begins when Ed Grange, an alcoholic, adopts the titular boxer as a puppy from his first family: “I looked at my mother, now looking at me. Her eyes were watery and loving and asking me for forgiveness.” 

To propel the plot, the author chronicles Buster’s journey throughout Washington D.C. As we travel with Buster, Pelecanos details why the loveable canine cannot find a stable home, and it is through Buster that we get acquainted with the individuals with whom he lives, starting with his original and thoughtful owner Miss Darcia where Buster’s mother (dam in dog parlance) lives, to Ed Grange, the nasty drunk, to the caring Uncle Joe who rescues Buster off the streets. When Buster first meets Joe, the avuncular character is still mourning his wife and nursing his own elderly dog, providing a further glimpse into his love for animals. We are then immersed into the illegal world of drug dealing, a setting like The Wire, with Top, Joe’s drug dealing, gun-toting nephew, who meets Buster and adopts him. Buster reveals his survival skills throughout the text: every time he spots someone from a shelter, he runs away – as fast as he can— so he is not forced to live in a cage until someone adopts him, or worse, so he is not placed on death row in a kill shelter.

To immerse the reader deeper into the setting, the author situates us in familiar D.C. sites, beginning with Buster’s first home with Miss Darcia, the all-brick community where rats roam near the dumpsters and large roaches scamper around the kitchens. He provides us with a curbside view of the alleys that run behind the row houses in the District, and we travel with Top and Buster to Valley Trail where they go on hikes. We are also positioned on Hillcrest Drive by Alger Park where a homicide is committed. 

Pelecanos’s novella conveys the powerful bond between animals and humans. We cannot help falling in love with Buster and root for him to find a stable, loving home, making Pelecanos’s pooch a welcome addition to his impressive oeuvre.  


Buster: A Dog
by George Pelecanos
Akashic Books, 88 p.


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