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A Review of Bojanowski's The Dog Fighter (2004)
By Jason Jordan, Nov 26, 2006
The Dog Fighter (Perennial, 2004) takes some getting used to. In a counterintuitive move, Marc Bojanowski’s debut novel contains the bare minimum as far as punctuation is concerned. You will find no quotation marks, commas, dashes, colons, semicolons, ellipsis, or any other helpful forms of punctuation. Instead, aside from marks native to the Spanish language (accents, etc.), you will only be given words, periods, and question marks.  Does that make for a clunky, awkward reading experience at first? You bet.

To move on, this 300-page opus centers on 1940s Mexico – specifically Canción, which is undergoing industrialization against the wishes of the locals. The main character, who also functions as the narrator, is commissioned to work on the town’s first high-rise hotel after a tumultuous coming of age. Hoping to gain notoriety like the antiheroes in his grandfather’s stories, the “dog fighter” traveled California before eventually settling in Mexico. It was there he learned about the lucrative business of dog fighting – a sport that carries with it fame, money, and power.

Of course the dog fighter – as others refer to him – encounters many problems in his newfound lifestyle. After befriending a sly, multilingual poet, a crass war veteran, a gay dentist, a master thief, and a child pickpocket, the dog fighter begins to appreciate the small coastal town for what it is. Unfortunately, Cantana – perhaps The Dog Fighter’s more refined version of Tony Montana (Scarface) – keeps close watch on the main character once he rises through the dog fighting ranks. He is then torn between Cantana (who, come to find out, has connections to the dog fighter’s love-at-first-sight) and his dreams for Canción, and the locals and their current standard of living. There is heartbreak. There is violence. There is muerte. 

What’s great about The Dog Fighter, however, is that it excels on numerous levels. The story is compelling, the cast of characters is endearing, and perhaps most surprisingly, the reader becomes attached to the narrator even though he is very unlikable during a sizeable portion of the book. At times the lack of adequate punctuation is annoying, the narrator seems more like the author than the main character, and the events aren’t even close to turning out how we’d like them to, but Bojanowski’s debut is simply a great effort when it comes down to it. I’d recommend it to just about anyone – especially those with an open mind who don’t need a happy ending to be satisfied.

Jason Jordan is many things. He is staff reviewer for this magazine. He was the host of the Bean Street Reading Series. He was an editor of The IUS Review. He has been a featured writer at the Tuesday Night Reading Series in Evansville, Indiana. His writing appears in The Edward Society and The2ndHand. He teaches college writing to college students. His book is called Powering the Devil's Circus and his website is located here. He is a writer.