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The Power of the Dog

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,499 ratings  ·  258 reviews
First published in 1967, Thomas Savage's western novel about two brothers now includes an afterword by Annie Proulx.

Phil and George are brothers, more than partners, joint owners of the biggest ranch in their Montana valley. Phil is the bright one, George the plodder. Phil is tall and angular; George is stocky and silent. Phil is a brilliant chess player, a voracious
Paperback, 293 pages
Published June 1st 2001 by Back Bay Books (first published 1967)
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Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtryTrue Grit by Charles PortisBlood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthyAll the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthyBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
Best Westerns
1,038 books — 1,238 voters
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Literary Westerns
210 books — 317 voters

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Average rating 4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,499 ratings  ·  258 reviews

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Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like good books
I wonder how extraordinary writers fade into obscurity. I pondered this the whole time I was reading this 1967 novel, and asked myself a few pertinent questions such as: Why isn't Thomas Savage a name that easily rolls off the tongue of many a book lover? Why isn't his name the answer to a Jeopardy question? Why isn't "Thomas-Savage-ian" an adjective?

Maybe it's because we decided that it was no longer fashionable to read slow burning, ruthless stories.

Nah, we said, forget about it. We're not
How silly I was, adding this, ever so casually, to my year of the dog shelf.

I thought it was a story about a dog.

I ordered a copy from the library, in an attempt to get one last “dog related” read in before the lunar year shifts our focus to the pig.

You know. . . Goodbye Lassie, Hello Wilbur. . .

Oh, dear.

My first clue was seeing this on the cover: Afterword by Annie Proulx.

Annie Proulx? Uh-oh. Other than my beloved The Shipping News, everything else I've read by Annie has reminded me of the
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Perry by: Mel
No Hot Dogs, Nanners or Mayo
Oh, Good Grief!

A recent reissue of a 1967 ground-breaking Western novel, a high-pressurized psychological study of two brothers, George and Phil, as well as of the former's new wife Rose, who before the marriage was a widow, and her 17-year-old son, "Miss Nancy," which is brother Phil's nickname for Peter, the sensitive, "sissy" son. The novel was set in the 1920s.

I don't want to say too much to give away the plot, which is in fact telegraphed from early on. I will
Dec 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
***This review probably contains some spoilers***

I just reread this novel, after losing track of it for a few years. It was just as emotionally powerful for me this time around. Beautiful, lean writing style with few wasted words...yet it still feels like an epic Western story of Montana ranch life in the 1920’s.

The story depicts family dynamics in the life of two brothers from a wealthy ranching household in 1924. Phil, the oldest is a brilliant but repressed homosexual. His younger brother,
An intriguing character study that explores the hollowness of manly virtues. I liked how it surprised me by showing how the true Western wilderness of the American Dream may be gone by the early 20th century, but it is still lodged in the human heart. Annie Proulx, in her afterword provided this summation of the strengths of this book:

Savage, though rarely included in the western literary lists, was one of the first Montana writers … His novels are rich in character development, written in clear
Betsy Robinson
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Betsy by: Mel
I didn't want this to end. I read slowly. But I also had to find out what happened. So I read fast. How did I get this old and not know about this primal work of art first published in 1967?

Thank you to Goodreader Mel for her unrevealing yet irresistible review; she is right—it is best to go into this book blind.

If I owned a copy—and I'll probably end up buying it to read it again—I would put it on my shelf beside a book I've read three times and own two copies of, John Williams's Stoner. And
LeAnne: GeezerMom
What a sly and creepy old cowboy story! Utterly outstanding and, considering that this was written in 1967, it is timeless as well. Don't let the western setting nudge you into thinking that this is a shoot-em-up or something that Louis Lamour would have written. This is dark and juicy.

Two middle-aged bachelor brothers are very prosperous ranchers in 1920s Montana, both loyal to their land and tending to the wealth that came from their parents. But it is at that point that their similarities
Apr 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I thought I'd put my thoughts down before reading the Afterward by Annie Proulx. What a story. It’s been awhile since the first and last paragraphs so neatly capture a tortured saga. I saw the ending coming, doubted it, but yet it came in unexpected iteration. I’m so delighted to have found this author, he’s on my A list. The people are drawn true, most eccentric, therefore all-the-more true characters as they play out a drama on the high plains of a cattle ranch Utah right after the war. This ...more
Carmel Hanes
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
If you value an interesting story, a beautiful and unusual writing style, and descriptions that make you pause to completely absorb their depth, this novel is for you. They say a good book is timeless, and this one fits the bill, even though it was written back in the sixties. Some may dismiss it as a cowboy story, but it is so much more.

The story follows two brothers who have carved out a partnership running a ranch, each contributing according to their particular interests and gifts; their
Doug H - On Hiatus
Apr 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites

My Favorite Book of The Year So Far!

(Pile of rotting fence posts on a Montana ranch)

“Under there gophers were safe from badgers who wished to eat them whole. There cottontails were safe from coyotes who worried the poles with their paws and teeth. … It was a sport of ranch boys to rout out the gophers, the cottontails, the mice - to exhaust themselves lifting pole after pole to expose the hiding place of some terrified creature grown too confident. How moving it was to see it cowering, the eyes
Sep 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of strong characterization and taut psychological observation
Recommended to Lawyer by: Doug H
The Power of the Dog: A Most Different Western Novel

Montana, 1925. Brothers Phil and George Burbank own the biggest cattle spread in the state. They have shared the same room since they were boys. Phil is the man the cow hands admire. George is the quiet one, a bit of a bore. But a cruel streak runs through Phil. The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage creates an unnerving tension in the opening chapters of the novel.

On the surface, Phil Burbank is a successful rancher. He is a man's man. In the
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
Let this be a surprise. Do yourself that favor, if possible, and remember this was first published in 1967, 50 yrs. ago. In light of today, that is significant and another reason to justify the word powerful when referring to this novel. Find your own way into this book rather than have another reader give you their experience first. [Although the GR reviews are well written and I didn't notice any spoilers in those I read.] The psychology is deeply layered and perfectly developed and needs to ...more
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After an opening scene involving a castration I could swear I was in for my first five star rating of 2020. I was immediately drawn into the story. I found the writing mesmerising, and the idea of two brothers as opposites, although not new (not even in the 1960s), seemed fascinating. I couldn’t wait to know where Savage was taking me.

Characters were (well) introduced.
Tension started building up.
On top of that tension there was a constant eerie sense of doom and I realised I was literally
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Favorite read of 2018 but also going on my favorite list. What's that, "loose lips sink ships?" Therefore, I will say nothing in fear I would give away the characters and the book. Read it for yourself. You will either love the opening sentence or be repulsed.
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of modern westerns, family dramas, psychological dramas
Shelves: favorites, the-west, owned
Martin Ritt's Hud (1963)

is, in my opinion, one of our finest American films. It captures a unique, lonesome small-town modern western mood with beautiful, stark, black & white cinematography that wouldn’t meet its (near) match until eight years later with another Larry McMurtry adaptation, Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show. The Power of the Dog, like Hud, is a tense family drama taking place on a cattle ranch in a relatively modern (in this case, the 1920s) western setting,
Diane Barnes
Apr 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
I was all set to give this book a 4 star rating, then changed it to 5 after I read the last page, then thought about it some more and finally decided that for me, 4 stars is correct. So, 4.5 if GR would get off it's butt and give us the half stars we keep asking for.

Anyway, back to the book. I hate bullies, and I love revenge and the kind of people who exact their own form of private justice, both in fiction and in real life. The real west, with it's loneliness caused by both landscape and the
The chaotic holidays are finally over, and I can now resume my regularly scheduled retiree life - reading in blissfully quiet, uninterrupted stretches. This book was an excellent way to kick off my new year of reading. I started out thinking it was very similar to one of my all-time favorite novels - ‘Plainsong’ by Kent Haruf: Two middle-aged bachelor brothers living in their childhood home and running a cattle farm together in the western United States. But the similarity pretty much ended ...more
Kirk Smith
May 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An almost overlooked treasure. I enjoyed how it ended. Surprising and powerful!
Feb 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A real rediscovered classic for me from the 60's. A dark and brutal mash-up of Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx that kept me absolutely hooked. Will be seeking out more books by this author forthwith :)
Apr 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: DeAnne
Two middle-aged brothers run a large successful cattle ranch in Montana. George is good and Phil is evil. I could stop right there and say if you love a well-written book set in the West, read this one because it's one of the most compelling books I've read. To be fair to you, I have to mention that it absolutely shredded my nerves. The most well-drawn character is the evil brother, and Phil's gleeful cruelty, huge ego, fractured view of the world, and absolute brilliance drive the book. He's so ...more
Apr 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one heck of a novel. Set on a Montana ranch in 1924-25, it tells of a domestic drama involving two brothers and the tensions that quickly develop when one of them marries a widow with a teenage son. The driving emotional force in the novel (and the "dog" of the title) is the older, unmarried brother, a fascinating study in western machismo, who is both sharply intelligent and capable of merciless cruelty, all apparently masking a fiercely denied homosexuality. The opening scene of the ...more
Jun 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2013
First, thanks to Kita for steering me towards this book.

I'll admit that the first several chapters were a bit of a challenge, mainly because several time shifts, often without adequate transitions or orientation, force the reader to work a little harder than normal.

However, the characters are so well constructed and the tension so ominous and palpable that I must give it five stars. I was reminded of Tennessee Williams' A Street Car Named Desire while reading this pseudo Western set in the
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have to thank Robin and Doug for their intriguing reviews of this book. I doubt I would have heard of it otherwise. And what a gem of a book it is. A taut psychological drama with a very clever and satisfying ending. Highly recommend!
I’ll be thinking of this novel for days...and longer. Highly recommend this gem. I can’t stop talking about it to friends. Don’t let the first paragraph put you off! It’s well worth the trip and the finale!
Apr 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Of the books I have read in the past 6 months this one is easily the champion...with a conclusion that is so fitting and so ASTOUNDING my mind was literally blown. Amazing novel. Read it, read it, read it!
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mary by: Doug H - On Hiatus
Shelves: fiction, 2018
This was a slow, tense burn, and then – whoa! - the last line blows everything apart.
Kris McCracken
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Right up there with the best books that I've read this year. Gripping, tense and just when you think you have a grasp on the trajectory of events, it still manages to surprise. Beautiful writing.
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I devoured this and loved it.
I never could quite figure out where this was heading, or going to end up.
A story that will stick me me for a while. I need some time to think it over...
Jun 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A knock-out, tour de force novel of the American West. Literally takes your breath away, from the graphic first lines through to the explosive last lines. Set in the 1920s, written in the 1960s, and just as relevant and insightful in the 2010s. How this novel escaped from being required reading in classrooms around the country or on lists of the best gay novels escapes me and is even more tragic than the tale it weaves. The brothers Burbank, the widow Rose and her sissy son Peter, and the ...more
Ann Kellett
Jul 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Brutal and beautiful look at life on a Montana ranch in the 1920s. If I ever need to simulate an anxiety attack, I'll think about what happens when the governor comes over for dinner. One of the most powerful books I've ever read (and it has nothing to do with dogs).
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Author of 13 novels published between 1944 and 1988. He is best known for his Western novels, which drew on early experiences in the American West.
“Deliver my soul from the sword,
my darling from the power of the dog.”
“his habits and appearance required strangers to alter their conception of an aristocrat to one who can afford to be himself.” 0 likes
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