7 Books To Help You Understand the Dogs (and Dog People) in Your Life
Unsentimental new novels and memoirs about the bond between human and pup
Dog person vs. cat person: it’s an old and contentious debate, and one that probably won’t be solved by literature—but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to try. Writers have been struggling for decades (probably centuries) to argue the dog-person case, trying to express exactly what it is about canines that’s won our eternal affection. Here are just the offerings from the last few years.
From a graphic memoir about a neurotic but beloved dog to a thriller about a zoonotic plague that threatens a cull of the family pets, these seven books tell of the resilient bond forged between dog and humans, celebrate the human-canine devotion, and illuminate why dog people dedicate their existence to their furry companions.
Afterglow (a dog memoir) by Eileen Myles
On the surface, Myles’ poetic memoir seems like a meditation on what it means to be a dog,“an eternally silent child,” dependent on humans. Afterglow opens with the decline and death of Rosie, Myles’ beloved pitbull, confidant, and muse. Myles, who at various points envisions Rosie as the reincarnation of their father and of other famous people in history, channels Rosie’s ethereal voice from the afterlife, allowing the dog to “recount” her experiences on earth. Afterglow uses fabulist imaginations and a nonlinear mix of true, fictitious, and experimental scenes to reflect on Myles’ experiences with intimacy, spirituality, queerness, politics, alcoholism and recovery, writing, and of course, loss.
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
An unnamed writing professor inherits a Great Dane after the suicide of her best friend and mentor. Apollo is bewildered by the sudden loss of his master. The dog waits unbudgingly by the door, expecting his master’s return. Despite her protestations that she is a cat person and a rent-stabilized lease that prohibits dogs, the professor finds herself bonding with Apollo through their shared mourning. Nunez’s story of a dog and his inadvertent caregiver is a darkly humorous and unsentimental tale of friendship, mourning, and solace.
Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home by Nicole J. Georges
Georges’s beautifully drawn graphic memoir recounts her relationship with Beija, a shar-pei/corgi rescue dog. Prone to knocking over small children and barking obsessively, Beija was such a difficult pet that not even vets, dog whisperers, and a pet psychic could cure her neurotic behavior. But through the next fifteen years of a turbulent young adulthood, relationships gone wrong, depression, a sexual awakening, and the chaos of the Portland punk scene, Beija and her “Don’t Pet Me” bandana was the one constant in Georges’s life.
Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis
Does human intelligence makes us unhappy? The gods Apollo and Hermes make a bet to answer that question, granting a pack of dogs at a Toronto veterinary clinic mortal consciousness. The pack’s newfound cognition proves to be both a burden and a gift as they navigate unfamiliar thoughts and sensations. The dogs escape to establish their proto-society by the city’s lakeshore, free from the control of human masters, but divisions form between those who cleave to the familiar canine ways and those who welcome the change. The transference of sentience reveals the paradoxes of human behavior, but also unmasks a universal truth: a life fulfilled is being in love and being loved in return.
Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
Ted is a single, gay writer struggling with sobriety, tumultuous relationships and a flailing career. His life revolves around one constant: Lily, a 12-year-old ice-cream loving dachshund. On Thursdays, they argue over cute boys (he’s a Ryan Gosling fan, she’s a Ryan Reynolds girl); on Fridays, they play board games; on Sundays, they indulge in pizza. But the cozy life the two of them built together is threatened by an octopus attached to Lily’s head. Ted can sense that the the interloping cephalopod is hungry to take his most devoted companion away from him and he vows to kill the octopus. Using magical realism, Rowley conveys precisely what it feels like to love and to lose a dog.
Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff
Jonathan has all the trappings of a successful grownup: a job at an advertising agency, a New York City apartment, and “a not-unimpressive girlfriend.” But the truth is writing mind-numbingly boring copy for stationery makes him miserable, the landlord might evicted from his illegal sublet any day now and he finds Julie and her “belief system consisted of medium heels, a decent haircut and solid retirement funds more or less from birth” boring. His brother’s dogs Sissy the Spaniel and Dante the Border Collie come to live with him and they are determined to sort out his life. Rosoff’s charming and hilarious novel is a love story of becoming an adult in the New York City.
Just Life by Neil Abramson
A deadly animal-transmitted virus spreads through the Upper East Side, bringing chaos and panic to New York City. Suspicion soon falls on the family pets and faced with a demand for immediate action, the Governor declares a quarantine. Veterinarian Samantha Lewis who runs a no-kill dog shelter in her neighborhood knows that a cull is imminent. With help from a homeless teen, an elderly priest, a sympathetic cop and a disgraced psychologist, Samantha embarks on a mission uncover the origins of the disease and save the dogs before it’s too late.