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.
... [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[.]
The thriller aspect sneaks up on the reader as information is tortuously eked out about Olenka’s at-first unwitting ties to a clan of ruthless oligarchs. Oksanen subtly but viscerally depicts jeopardy and romance without resorting to graphic descriptions. As suspense mounts, occasionally at the expense of coherence, we learn much about the precarious state of post-Soviet Ukraine and its chaotic economy, in which gangsterism rules, violence is celebrated, and exploitation of women is big business. A dystopian novel that seems all too real.