|Are dogs better life companions than men? In Elaine Fox’s Guys & Dogs, the gang of divorced women who hang out in the dog park with their pooches believe so.
Megan Rose is one of these women. She has returned to historic Fredricksburg, Virginia, to reunite with her father and take over his failing veterinary practice. She hadn’t spent time with him since the parents divorced when she was nine, but has decided since her own divorce and mother’s death that she needs to reconcile and attempt to build a relationship with him. Her father is a womanizing alcoholic who has let the practice go to pot; those who could afford to took their pets to the classier side of town. She is, needless to say, a lover of dogs.
Into her life one day comes a runaway dog. The dog’s tags, having an address but no phone number, lead Megan to the home of multi-millionaire software development mogul Sutter Foley. It’s clear that he has never seen this dog before (turns out she was abandoned by a recently fired member of his staff); it is equally clear that he is not a lover of dogs. Although the mess, unpredictability and responsibility that come with a teenaged golden retriever mix would be unwelcome in his life, he inexplicably finds himself with custody when Megan decides that his life needs what the dog has to offer and convinces him to keep her (the dog, not Megan) around.
Renamed from the abhorrent “Baywatch” to the more acceptable “Twister,” the dog complicates Sutter’s hectic, if somewhat sterile, life. Meanwhile, the tabloid press is literally stalking him – apparently the British accent, hunk-man body, and gorgeous face, plus the multi-millions, make him quite the catch.
So, she’s a vet, he has a new dog that she pretty much tricked him into keeping; the set-up for reoccurring contact is in place. Dog has issues, owner blames vet. The tabloids make big trouble, some secondary characters launch an unrelated exploit that complicates the story line. The dog-owner friends in the park are fleshed out a bit (might they have their own man-triumphs-over-dog-as-life-companion books in the works?) The dialogue is snappy, the characters really quite likeable, if somewhat flawed and human, much of the writing is quite witty, and… it’s all about as deep as this indicates.
A story doesn’t have to be deep to be good, but it sure needs to be good to be good enough, and ultimately this was just barely that. This tale suffers from three main ailments. The first was actually only illuminated clearly for me through the process of writing the review. I found myself wanting to add the qualifier “seems” to virtually every sentence describing the characters. As in, “Sutter seems to like his solitary life.” There is something tentative about the descriptions, ephemeral in the details, or maybe just too changeable. As in, today she’s this, and tomorrow she’s that. She’s divorced, from a man who cheated on her, but she seems to have little difficulty falling for a man who appears to be cheating on his girlfriend with her. (See, there’s that “seems.” It just sneaks in!) Why the shift? Because it turns out he likes dogs? Because he’s hot? Because something happened to change her views?
In fact, the “something” that happens is frequently only internal dialogue. Dialogue, not monologue. The characters spend a good deal of time asking themselves questions that they then answer, to themselves. And this is the second problem with the book – the cardinal “show, don’t tell” rule is routinely broken. The reader really only knows what’s going on with a character through the running inner dialogue (inner explanation and justification, really). They don’t show, through their actions, who they are, what they are feeling, or how they are changing.
My final concern: by my count, there were only about a half-dozen encounters between the first meeting and life-long commitment. Only one of these meetings involved conversation that was more than superficial. Worse, one of the encounters was when one of them was extremely inebriated, which was actually a bit distasteful. So, given the limited contact, how exactly did these two come to find themselves committed to each other?
In the end, the book offers empty calories – tasty enough in the moment, but no nutritional value whatsoever. It’s People magazine – entertaining enough, but with zero staying power and very little that is lasting or memorable. I’m unlikely to rush out to buy any future dog park books, but I’d read one if it was given to me. That seems to be (there it is again!) my current description of a three hearts effort.