Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Dog Stories

I asked for some books for Christmas. I think my parents gave me The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and my brother gave me Murder of a Medici Princess (biography of Isabelle Medici). Both were specific titles on my wishlist. I really thought I wanted to read them.

I read Murder of a Medici Princess first. Obviously the title kind of gives away how the book is going to end but it was still very interesting. Isabelle Medici was a real person and a woman born ahead of her time, both privileged and vulnerable. Her life and death were both pretty fascinating.

Now I have started The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. It got great reviews and I heard about it on NPR before Oprah made it part of her cult (I have this theory that for as many people who read and appreciate some great books when they become part of Oprah's book club, there are nearly as many book snobs who disdain a paperback with that little "O" on the cover and who cringed when she announced that Anna Karenina was now on her list). So Edgar Sawtelle is about a boy and his family who breed a special kind of smart and hardworking Sawtelle dog. He has his own special pet dog and the plot thickens when his uncle shows up at their farm and a stray dog is seen lurking around. It's a nice fat book but I have come to a standstill on page 93.

Because we all know how dog stories end.

I find myself skimming ahead a few pages (or even to the end of chapters) to find the dog's name mentioned and once I can tell from a sentence or two that the dog is OK, I'll go back and actually read the pages I skipped. It is ridiculous. I mean, I knew Isabelle Medici was going to get it, and I had no problem reading her biography. But this fictional work about a fictional boy and his fictional dog; it has me paralyzed.

I read Marley and Me when it first came out. I finished it in bed one right and woke David up because I was crying and pulling Cooper up from the foot of the bed so he could fit in between us as I sobbed, "I don't want Cooper to die!!!". I refused to see the movie after a review in one newspaper I saw said it could be "traumatic" for kids. Today there's an article in NYT called "Life Lessons from the Family Dog" -- of course I read it and of course it made me cry.

In a variety of freak accidents and illnesses, my junior year of college my family's three cats all died within a month of each other. It was totally traumatizing. When our family dog, Rufus, died, his brother-dog Buster practically lost his mind and couldn't be left alone until my parents adopted Blackjack. It almost seemed like a rite of passage for my friends and me in college as each of us experienced the loss of the family pet. But knowing that other people were going through it didn't make it any less sad.

I think one of the wonderful things that humans get to do is live long enough to be owners of several different dogs and in theory that seems like a good plan. Certainly dogs have much to teach us about appreciating small things, taking advantage of the present, loving unconditionally, offering comfort by just being a warm and silent body, knowing that happiness is contagious and if you just jump around like an idiot you will make someone smile.

But as the author of this article write, "those of us who love dogs understand that all dog stories end the same way."

And that is why I don't know when or if I'll be able to finish The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Because I am afraid I already know how it ends. And Cooper and Little Mac and I are so not up for that. I think we will take a nice walk to the park instead.

if anyone has read it and can tell me that the dog does not die, that would definitely help. Do not worry about plot spoilers.


  1. These are recent comments on the NYT article. My sentiments exactly.

    Comments of the Moment

    “ Oh I hate dog stories.....crying at work is a no, no!!!”
    — Brian
    Life Lessons From the Family Dog

    “ Thank you for illuminating the not-so-secret blessings that all dog-owners know and live with each day: that dogs remind us to be our best selves. ”
    — Jon Yanofsky
    Life Lessons From the Family Dog

    “ I think you must have learned the lesson from Bijou very well, because you're teaching it to us so well! ”
    — Sarah D.
    Life Lessons From the Family Dog

    “ Oh, how animals touch our lives and bring to it both love and pain.”
    — Abby
    Life Lessons From the Family Dog

    “ I had always decided no heroics for my dog. But I couldn't do it while I was going in for my own cancer surgery. We had surgery and recovered at the same time. ”
    — Kairol Rosenthal
    Life Lessons From the Family Dog

    “ The expression "just a dog" is a contradiction in terms.”
    — PF
    Life Lessons From the Family Dog

    “ If dogs don't go to heaven, then I want to go where they go.”
    — Janis
    Life Lessons From the Family Dog

  2. I read (most of) the true story of Dewey the Library cat. I didn't read the end because I knew how it would end also! So you come by this naturally I guess! Moom

  3. I SO agree with you. The kids at school continuously try to get me to read dog books and I refuse. I hate it when the dog dies, it is so sad. The only one I'll read over and over is Where the Red Fern Grows. It is just so good!