A compelling, compulsive follow up to The School on Heart's Content Road by a "modern-day Dickensian voice" (San Diego Union Tribune); a politically passionate portrait of a complicated, marginalized leader who refuses to silence his beliefs, and who may or may not be all that he seems.
It's the height of summer, 1999, when local newspaper, the Record Sun, receives numerous tipoffs from anonymous callers warning of violence, weapons stockpiling, and rampant child abuse at the nearby homeschool on Heart's Content Road. Hungry for a big break into serious journalism, ingénue columnist Ivy Morelli sets out to meet the mysterious leader of the homeschool, Gordon St. Onge referred to by many as "The Prophet". Soon, Ivy ingratiates herself into the sprawling Settlement, a self-sufficient counterculture community that many locals fear to be a wild cult. Despite her initial skepticism, not to mention the Settlement's ever-growing group of pregnant teenaged girls, Ivy finds herself irresistibly drawn to Gordon.
Meanwhile, across town, Brianna, a gifted and disturbed teen with wild orange hair, paints her political and personal visions. At the behest of her brothers, Brianna joins the community. As her complicated, awkward relationship with Gordon unfolds, Brianna reveals herself to be a shy, yet passionate, individual, with a strange and troubling sexual past. As the newcomers are drawn deeper into Settlement life, Gordon's powerful magnetism and strange duality are exposed, and those rumors that led to his initial investigation seem, at times, to be all too possible realities. When the Record Sun finally runs its piece on Gordon, the exposure has a startling and unexpected effect on Settlement life and the world beyond it.
Carolyn Chute paints a picture that implies freedom in society is a fiction. “Treat Us like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves” gives definition to American militias and aberrant societies that grow into rages against conventional government. In any aggregate of people in a society, a set of rules are created through dictatorship or representative government, with varying levels of individual apathy. Each society uses propaganda, advertising, and cultural norms to maintain its existence. If general acceptance of societies’ rules diminishes, totalitarianism rises.
Chute writes a story that shows how human cognition militates against society based on a Pavlovian reward system. Though the title is about bad treatment of dogs, Chute metaphorically reveals how Pavlovian treatment of human beings turns them into predatory beasts. Chute implies societies’ leaders, influencers, and propagandists attempt to treat people through self-interest and a reward system reminiscent of B. F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning. Failure is inevitable because human’s rebel when self-interest distorts the general good.
"Treat Us like Dogs..." reinforces belief in Thomas Hobbes “Leviathan”. There can be no perfect form of government in society because of the nature of humankind. Humans are both good and evil. To form a society, people need rules of governance that protects them from each other. In setting those rules, freedom is infringed upon; without infringement, there is only anarchy. Absolute freedom in society is a fiction.
Chute’s story is too long. It has more characters than are necessary and its narration could be improved with the addition of a female narrator. However, “Treat Us like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves” remains a valuable explanation of how militias and aberrant societies ironically grow in western economies that emphasize human rights and freedom.