I really thought I was going to enjoy What He Really Wants is a Dog. It had a wryly humorous, colloquial title; seventeen stories of ‘lovers and liars, sorcery, sodomy, friendship, revenge and nostalgia’; a charming jacket illustration of a cat, and was described on the back as ‘wickedly perceptive’. I was disappointed.
The story titles are enticing – ‘Thirteen Maps of Betrayal’; ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’; ‘Manhattan, New York City, America, The World’; ‘Taboo’. Settings range from Miami to London, Crete to Rome. Various subjects include an obsessive Leonard Cohen fan; a dangerously manipulative storyteller and an aspiring adulterer. But characterisation is weak and the tone is drably, dismayingly monotonous.
There is a jarring indifference to credibility. In ‘Sunday Soaps’, after a striking opening, Campbell evokes a bored and isolated housewife reluctant to masturbate between noon and two on a Sunday because ‘that was when the travelling salesmen came by expecting to find “ the lady of the house” preparing Sunday dinner’. A nice conceit but surely archaic as the bored housewife of the 1980s is more likely to be accosted at her front door by cheery and sublimely polite Jehovah’s Witnesses while salesmen assault her with their wiles over the telephone.
The clash of old friends and new lovers in ‘Delphi’ is weakened by the description of Baby, a new girlfriend. Despised for ‘dressing like a fashion model rather than the shop clerk she was’ and for discussing the last three episodes of Dallas, the story still opens with the following