By Michelle Herman
"The dog, the dog, the dog—the dog had taken over her life. But this was not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps she had needed to have her life taken over."
So begins Michelle Herman's delightful little novel, Dog. A dog can provide the push to make us genuinely human, it argues, when we cannot or will not make the effort on our own. The protagonist is one J. T. (Jill) Rosen, 44, single, poet, former New Yorker now professor of creative writing somewhere in the snowy midwest. Picture Julia Louis-Dreyfuss's Elaine in Seinfeld, but twice as prickly and utterly devoid of her goofy good humor. Someone who doesn't realize her colleagues refer to her as "Her Royal Highness" and wonders why her students "so often found her funny" when she didn't mean to be.
Surfing the web late one night, after maybe one glass of red wine too many, she succumbs to a maternal pang and casually Googles "adoption." To her surprise, the search results point overwhelmingly to animal rescue organizations. Dismissing cats as "too stereotypical" for a single middle-aged woman, she lands on a dog rescue operation not far from where she lives. A sweet looking puppy with intelligent eyes moves her, and before the next day is through she has brought him home and named him "Phil."
The dog up-ends her cloistered and carefully calibrated existence. He forces her out of her house and out of her head. Before long she is talking—however uncomfortably—with neighbors, opening up to her students, making tentative overtures of friendship, and even thinking about the possibility of love and romance for the first time in ages.
Dog could easily have been Hallmark-Hall-of-Fame saccharine but is instead honest and true to life. It struck a real chord with me, and it will with you, too, if you've ever found yourself swept off your feet by a dog more human than yourself.
Review by Don Beistle
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