I Thought You were Dead is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Proof? During the hours I spent with this book I completely forgot that dogs can't talk, at least not the way Stella can. Stella is a seer in her own four footed way, a sage even, pointing out that humans are not as evolved as they think they are, that they drink to drive away stress at the wrong end of the day, (after the "big dog" has gone away) and that they spend a ridiculous amount of time being sad about the things they aren't. "Am a failed wolf? Or is a wolf a failed dog?" she asks her owner in a discussion about scientists' tendency to see dogs as something less than they should be. While the conversation itself is rich and funny, the subtext is more so.
Paul isn't nearly as evolved as Stella. Living the half-life leftover existence that often seems to follow a divorce, he's still trying to sort out all the details of who he is (and isn't) and why his girlfriend can claim to love him and still be seeing someone else, how to help his father who's just had a stroke, finish the book he's contracted to write, and step out of the shadow of a successful older brother.
Strangely, he doesn't seem concerned about why his dog talks to him and this is part of the book's charm. While this may seem like a childish theme on the surface, the book is anything but as evidenced by this quote (one of my favorites):
What, he wondered in his beer, would the Zen masters do? Did their hearts break like everyone else’s? Did they drive past their ex’s house at two a.m. to see if the light was on in the bedroom window? He drew a deep slow breath and focused on the rhythm of his own heart, until a freight train split the night, blasting towards Brattleboro, making the whole world shake. He wondered who was driving that train, headed towards home or away from it? Did the engineer know where love goes when it dies? Or how it was possible that hummingbirds can cross the ocean while words can fail to fly a half pillow’s distance? And those cold winter nights, when snow obscured the tracks, did the engineer lose faith? That the rails would be there? That the bridges would hold? That there really was a Vermont? That there really was a train, and the clickety clack wasn’t just the sound of the heart moving towards the vanishing point, growing fainter, beat by beat? Neither engineer nor Zen master, he spent his nights in bars, thinking how love fills the veins with neon until you glow. How love enters like the day Houdini was born, amid nurses in fishnet stockings, doctors in top hats and tails, asking for silence as they levitated mother Houdini, passed a brass hoop around her while she pushed and groaned, the calliope playing merrily until suddenly and with great flourish, the doctors pulled from between her legs a bouncing 7 lb. white rabbit, and the hospital gasped, as a baby was heard to cry from inside a padlocked cabinet in the next room. Love’s arrival always astonished him, after so much pain and gnashing of teeth, presto --- ta da! Then one night he looked out the bar room window to where his dog waited for him in the snow, some nights so long a cap of white formed on her head, and by this realized it does not matter how love arrives. With apologies to Houdini, that was not the trick. The miracle was how love stays, enduring and steadfast, loyal as the gentle beast who ever at his side asked only to be included, fed, walked, giving in return more love than could reasonably be asked for, logically expected, or credibly deserved.
There's a sizable excerpt HERE if you're interested in reading more.
I just realized that this is the second dog book I've mentioned here, the last one being The Story of Edgar Sawtelle in January of 09. Interestingly, this particular entry continues to bring a lot of traffic by way of google, most of them searching for crib notes and reading group discussion topics. It's nice to be useful, though I sometimes wonder if that entry has become a clearing house of information for people who haven't studied.
If you don't have the time to read anything else this summer consider this one. It's a relatively quick, easy read that will put a smile on your face (at least) and a thoughtful hmmm in your heart.