The latest by Finnish-Estonian novelist Oksanen moves between modern-day Finland and Ukraine in the early days of its post-Soviet independence, tracing a web of exploitation and the commodification of the female body through the lens of Olenka—a woman who is haunted by the memory of her lost child and the ruthless powers that still hunt her.
Oksanen...blows her protagonist’s cover from the first page; but this is no spoiler. What she uncovers remains enigmatic and unprovable not only for the reader, but for Olenka herself, for whom every answer yields a new question, a new source of misgiving ... Ms. Oksanen mines living history, digging up toxic societal elements that have explosive power ... Ms. Oksanen wants her readers to feel uncertain and out of place, as adrift as her protagonist, and as complicit. She forges the links of her story with stealth and delay, slipping them into overlapping scenes in unnumbered chapters ... She postpones for as long as possible the moment when the links join to form the chain of circumstances that coils around her characters. But even then, the chain slithers, eludes the grasp ... The slow build and devious plotting of Dog Park will tantalize the Rubik’s Cube-minded, and the book offers the retrospective satisfaction of infinite replay, like a game with multiple resolutions.
Oksanen deftly interweaves the lives of Ukrainian women in the mid-2000s, a happy Finnish family in 2016, and readers in 2021 through overlaps of intentions, memories, and citizenship ... How Olenka’s plans are laid out, at times successfully and at others catastrophically, keeps the narrative going until the end. There’s not a single moment when the novel leaves readers sure of what’s happened, happening, or going to happen. At the end of almost every chapter begins a new suspense, usually marked by Olenka’s gradual revelation of an unmentioned aspect of the main narrative. These mini-plot twists—a death, a birth, or a warped relationship—turn the pages to the very end ... This suspense adds to the emotional burden readers must bear from the beginning as this likely dystopia unfolds. Through the tales of the dead, the unborn, and want-to-be mothers, Oksanen’s robust storytelling brings to the fore in this ruminative thriller the capitalization of women’s bodies, on either side of supply and demand, happening then and now—in 2006, in 2016, and 2021.
... [a] superb but pitiless thriller ... Oksanen...is an unflinching storyteller with a commitment to discouraging easy and obvious sympathies; as Olenka's narration jumps back and forth in time, readers' loyalty to some characters will be tested, as will an initial revulsion to others. Dog Park charts the particular degradations that women suffer due to war, poverty and imperialism, although one source of cruelty is purely psychological[.]