Penny Rush has problems. Her marriage is over; she's quit her job. Her mother and stepfather went missing in the Australian outback five years ago; her mentally unbalanced father provokes her; her grandmother Dr. Pincer keeps experiments in the refrigerator and something worse in the woodshed. But Penny is a virtuoso at what's possible when all else fails.
I’m in love with a grieving misfit driving around with a donkey-shaped piñata in an old van held together by duct tape. Her name is Penny Rush. She’s the hapless heroine of Elizabeth McKenzie’s new novel, and she’s something of a piñata herself ... The great miracle of McKenzie’s writing, like Kevin Wilson’s, is how she manages to transform misery into gentle humor. After all, The Dog of the North isn’t social satire or cringe-comedy. McKenzie displays no interest in mocking her hapless characters. Instead, she swaddles their sorrows in zaniness ... A hum of erratic absurdity runs beneath these pages like a loose wire behind the walls, continually shorting out and making the lights flicker. The irresistible sound of The Dog of the North is Penny’s voice, composed of mingled strains of good cheer and naked lament ... It's all darkly hilarious ... But anyone reading this novel will be happy to endure the bewilderment with her.
The plot gallops along, leaning heavily on people going to the hospital ... The zaniness is occasionally exhausting ... If you can bear with it through these high jinks, the heart of the book concerns Penny’s parents ... This is the sweet, yet cautionary note the book ends on. The past is a sinkhole, it seems to say. It’ll swallow you, if you’re not careful, and your Land Cruiser, too.
The events that unfold around the narrator of this gloriously entertaining novel are wild and ridiculous but always strangely believable. Elizabeth McKenzie...creates characters constantly teetering on the edge of a swamp of absurdity ... In case you think I’m giving away too much, I have barely scratched the surface of the novel’s splendid plot. For some reason a talent for plotting is rather dismissed these days, as if making stuff up was easy, but all writers of fiction know it is the backbone of a good novel, and McKenzie is an excellent plotter.