Sourcebooks, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-7172-4
Cancer – and losing loved ones to it – is something I am very familiar with, and I recently lost a beloved dog to mouth cancer when I stumbled upon the rave reviews for this book. I don’t want to read another Marley & Me, or any other heartwarming tale of selfless love and affection only a dog would give only to lead to his death and everyone crying and acting like the dog deserves to be canonized. I want a story with sad moments, but with a happier ending. The Dog Lived (And So Will I) seems to fit the bill. Looking for some catharsis, I ordered this book and, when it finally arrived at my doorstep, had a box of tissues ready for the glorious tear fest.
Well, I did have hopes. The author starts off the whole thing more preoccupied with her love affair with Chris, who is more than ten years younger than her. She also decides to adopt a beagle, whom she calls Seamus. Eventually, she discovers that Seamus has cancer, and then, later, oh dear, so does she. This memoir shares the experiences of the author as she deals with these revelations.
At the time of writing, Seamus had passed on, and I were a heartless person, I’d make a tasteless remark about how the sunshine and heartwarming rainbow trips promised by the publicity materials are just a lie as, in the end, we all get screwed by death so we may as well just party our days and nights away while waiting for the inevitable.
But I am a dog person, and I have nothing but admiration and good wishes for the author, both for her caring for Seamus and the other dogs in her life. Indeed, I have no problems at all with this story. Her experiences related to those visits to medical establishments bring back some unhappy memories, but the feel good message in this story does allow for some cathartic experience.
It’s just that this book is a laborious read, especially in those moments before the cancer drama drops. The pacing is erratic. Weeks and even months could pass between one paragraph to another. Mundane events and more significant moments are narrated in the same casual pace, when things could have been more readable had the more significant moments been framed in a manner that make them stand out from the more mundane scenes. For a long time, the whole thing reads like a day-to-day diary, written without any intention of keeping an audience interested. While I do sympathize with the author’s conflicted feelings about her developing relationship with a younger man – she has many reservations about their age difference and how their families would react to their relationship – I bought this book for the cancer drama and I ended up feeling like a black-hearted wretch for muttering impatiently inside my head, “Where’s the cancer? This is boring. I want the cancer!”
The whole thing picks up considerably in the late third of the memoir, when the author has finally found a rhythm that allows the narrative to move along in a more readable, less dry tempo. This is also the part where there is some emotional resonance to be found, and really, I adore Seamus and I was devastated when I learned from the author’s blog that he had passed on. It is also nice to see the author and Chris still going strong all this while, so yes, this book does have lots of love and warm fuzzy moments tailor-made for fellow dog people everywhere.
The Dog Lived (And So Will I) could have been better written with a stronger sense of pacing, though. The author’s attempts at humor can also be more cringe-inducing than actually funny. Adorable dying dogs can only carry a memoir so far.