The cover of the current edition of Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is split down the middle by a vaguely tribal design, the title to the right and a black and white baby picture of the author on the left. Young Bobo Fuller's mouth is wide open in a squall and her shoulders are squared for battle. If this photo were described by the author, though, she might say that the child's shoulders are battle-squared and her mouth is screaming-wide.
Fuller is masterful when it comes to compounding her descriptions, harnessing her adjectives to one another with hyphens. Her word choices are simple, words that are familiar to one whose childhood hinged on a wild, sometimes barbaric plain, and rose from a landscape peppered with gunfire and dotted with packs of dogs. She describes her childhood in these terms. The patted-down red earth. The boiled-meat smell of dog food. The neck-prickling terrorist-under-the-bed creeps. The oven-breath heat. These hyphenated descriptions set the tone for the memoir.
She writes in the first-person present-tense, but the tone is not omniscient and looking-back, the way one might think an adult memoirist would write about such tormented circumstances. Rather, she calls upon the way a child would describe what she sees. This is especially true when she recalls her mother:
Mum sitting "yoga cross-legged" as her beloved dogs sit "prick-eared" and watching. And after death of baby Adrian, once the family moves back to "working-class, damp-to-the-bone Derbyshire," it is Mum "sleeves-rolled-up running after two small children" (37). And upon the family's return to Africa, Mum is "don't-interrupt-me-I'm busy all day" (42). These are word portraits, culled by a child watching her conundrum of a mother as she ages, pulls through the death of a second child, and devolves from "being a fun drunk to a crazy, sad drunk" (93).