“The Power of the Dog”. Barren land and intimacy in a powerful romance – Observer

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Book: “The Power of the Dog”

Author: Thomas Savage

Publishing company: Asa

“The power of the dog” is on sale for 17.50 euros

Written in 1967, “The Power of the Dog” tells the story of two brothers, Phil and George Burbank, who live on an isolated ranch in the western part of the United States. The work, forgotten for decades, was adapted to the big screen by Jane Campion, who with the film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst, won the award for best director at the Venice Film Festival. However, the story was passed via Netflix. Asa took advantage of the momentum and published the literary work in Portugal.

This is Montana, 1924. Brothers and partners, Phil and George are co-owners of the largest ranch in the valley. They don’t lack money, but for Phil money is straw. There is no tendency in him for luxury, he despises those who approach him in search of financial gain. Grown men, they share a room in a huge house, the same one in which they grew up. The duo looks like two sides of the same object, contradictory and complete.

Phil stands out for a shrewd intelligence, George for a permanent bonhomie. One tall and thin, the other short and fat. The first one reads, the second has no hobbies, and seems to have no interests beyond living each day. George takes care of the paperwork, Phil is a man like the others on the ranch, carrying out the same type of work. Even in this, in which one sees the effort of one and the lassitude of the other, we find the biblical parable and we react to the voracity of Cain. Furthermore, Phil is sarcastic and likes to tease. For George, a sense of humor is a thing of the distance. Like a happy animal with little, just love and be loved. And then he meets Rose, young, widowed, whom he marries. The two move to the ranch, and there is a disturbing conflict with Phil, who has no restraints or sympathies or manners and seems bent on destroying her. Rose brings her son Peter, whose lisp and mannerisms Phil uses to call him sissy and Miss Nancy. Peter’s coolness in the face of ridicule will eventually create fascination there, and even reveal a hardness no less than Phil’s. With this scenario, Savage faced the depths of a country, exploring a dry and hidden place, with people who have to live despite the arid land and from it, bringing the reader a sense of intimacy, as he sees the little things of a life that revolves around the essentials.


Between Phil and George there is a strong bond, but there is also possession and envy. The first does not understand the space that the second gives a woman, and treats her as a mercenary, as he had treated others. As George finds another life, other affections, expands what was there, Phil’s frustration is greater, as is his anguish, and the sense of his defeat runs through the entire book. From page to page, we see him live the little thing he chose, while condemning anyone who makes a change in life, whether it’s raising a family or buying a car. At the heart of the story is always this fraternal relationship – Phil and George, Cain and Abel –, even when we follow the lives of other characters. Even the way Phil treats Peter is aimed at emotionally destroying his mother, always with the desire for her to leave and life to remain untouched as it had been until his arrival.

Phil is acidic, takes frustrations and throws them at his brother, and what frustrates him is not knowing how to get revenge for his possession. At home, he’s unpleasant and filthy, he does everything to make Rose’s discomfort, always merciless, and leaves no room for his brother’s choice. For the reader, his desire to colonize the will of others is clear, to submit his brother’s life to the life he wanted to have.

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Phil’s character is tough, indistinguishable from where he is. Throughout the book, we see the hard earth, how difficult it is to steal her life, and a man who gives himself the mission to live for her, for her and against her. In a single day, he castrates 1500 steers without gloves. By itself, this description is literature, as it starts from a scene to show a world and define a character, since Phil could give up this work.

The reader is led along the path of seeing the obvious hardness – the man who takes a bath in secret, who works with his hands, who gives his body to the earth, who scoffs at any gesture that a man may have that is feminine. The latter, personified in Peter, contrasts with the aridity of the landscape and the simplicity of the people, always closed and castrating, but the author worked the characters in such a way that even the harshness of what seems soft fit into this carefully woven backdrop.

In this way, O Poder do Cão shows Savage as a powerful voice in 20th century North American literature. Literature drinks from the earth, as does life. Savage died in 2003, aged 88, leaving behind a sophisticated production that points towards the North American west in its entirety.