Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41094-7
Contemporary Fiction, 2003 (Reissue)
Aw, the cover is so cute! I propose that we make it compulsory for every book cover to feature an adorable doggy. In fact, Claire Cook’s enjoyable, breezy, and light read will be even better if the main characters are talking doggies. Okay, maybe not, but for a book called Must Love Dogs, the heroine, inexplicably, isn’t exactly a big dog person, even if the men she dates may be sorry examples of doggies. The title is a play on personal ads, where apparently everybody who has an ad also loves dogs.
Sarah Hurlily, a divorcee, is slowly trying to get back to the dating game. Her answering an ad leads to her most horrifying experience ever: the person she has responded the ad to is her father. (Oh, and her father lies about a quite a few things about himself on the ad.) Her sister than writes Sarah an ad, and soon Sarah starts getting responses from the Twilight Zone of the XY pool, or so it seems.
But that’s not the main focus of this story, despite it being the selling point of the back blurb of the book. Sarah’s interactions with her family make up the bulk of this book, and they are enjoyable. Her father’s dating a pushy fashion-disaster trailer park dame nicknamed “Dracula Dolly” is causing some humorous complications within the family dynamics. Sarah also has to deal with her preschool teacher job, her brother’s failing marriage, and her attraction to the father of one of her students.
Written like an anecdotal daily account of a few months on Sarah’s lives, Must Love Dogs isn’t a romance story. There’s a possibility of one developing at the last page, and that’s it. Then again, it’s hard for romance to blossom when the heroine is whiny yet so defeatist in attitude in the first place. With her family, Sarah is an enjoyable heroine and I adore her relationships with the rest of her Irish-Catholic clan. On her own, however, Sarah turns into a desperate and needy woman who at the same time views everything with a pessimistic outlook. It makes me wonder why she even bothers doing anything when she is already so certain that everything will not work out in the end. It is a good thing that her dating scene is not the main component of this book or I will have a less enjoyable time with this book.
As a light breezy read that offers a few chuckles, Must Love Dogs will fit the bill nicely. Unfortunately, the heroine’s cynical and defeatist attitude regarding her love life provides a nice contrast to her bubblier interactions with her family but in the end, it fails to provide some emotional resonance that this book could use.