I enjoyed tremendously reading Edward Bunker's trashy, violent, but philosophically witty memoirs, Education of a Felon (2000). I never felt, though, that I'd need to read more of his work. But Dog eat Dog kept gazing at me for years from the bookshelf. My wife had bought it, probably from a flea market, and finally I grabbed it.
Education of a Felon documents the life of poor criminal people and their way of living and thinking, and it explains it pedagogically for the middle class. What a great political deed! But Dog eat Dog (1995) is only half-fictional. If it would be a movie, it would be Uli Edel's Christine F (Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, 1981). It sheds light on real world issues by using fiction as its method.
Bunker writes in a "been there, done that" fashion. He used to be a hardcore criminal and he spent years in jail before his literary career. Still there's no stupid macho attitude in Bunker's work. But he writes in a very exact, nearly pornographic way about the life of the West Coast American criminals he portrays.
The book clearly embodies a Rancierian attitude, an intention to show how the American white trash understands its class problems without the help of academic scholars. Not only Marx but throughout the history of theoretical thinking philosophers have dreamed of stepping down to help the weak and the poor to understand their own life, and this is what Ranciere criticizes in his Nights of Labor: The Workers Dream in Nineteenth Century France (1981).
The characters of Dog eat Dog are (mostly) nice (at least to each other), they read, think and act like 'normal people'. It is hard to find a better book which would show how it is often just the class-distinction which prevents people from studying in Berkeley.
I am happy that I live in Scandinavia. Here the protagonist of Dog eat Dog could attend a good university for free. Still one could of course write a book like this about Finnish criminals as well, although our democratic society makes everyone more educated and safe.
Dog eat Dog is funny, if one is allowed to say that about a literary work which contains a lot of violence. It shows how crazy the life of poor felons can be.
Why did I not read the book earlier? I was afraid that it would be macho kitsch. Maybe the way it has been advertised and portrayed has been leaning to that direction? As it is a reflective novel on criminal male culture it is sad that this reflective attitude is not visible in the covers and the advertisement of the book.
Anyway, I highly recommend Dog eat Dog. Bunker is sharp and exact in his descriptions of thug life. His cocktail of crime scenes, hospitals, jails and criminal joints is also very entertaining to read, without forgetting that the book is very sad, in the end. Although it is a fictional work, it is also an anthropological analysis with a warm heart.