An international art star becomes a dog walker after 25 harsh years in federal prison.
This funny, edgy, and winning novel introduces an extraordinary narrator who reveals her back story slowly and tantalizingly, so spoilers must be avoided here. Her name is Carleen Kepper, but it used to be Ester Rosenthal. It was changed by the woman who admitted her into the prison system to serve her life sentence because “They’ll kill you within a day and a half for crucifying their Lord.” For reasons that will be revealed, Carleen has been paroled and is living in a halfway house in New York City. She works as a dog walker and trainer, an occupation at which she is uniquely gifted. She is also trying to gain access to her 11-year-old daughter, a precocious girl who has changed her name from Pony to Batya Shulamite and is preparing for her bat mitzvah. How can she have a child that age if she was in prison since she was 18? Can’t tell you. What can be said is that Ester Rosenthal was an art prodigy who made the cover of the New York Times Magazine at the age of 12 and whose paintings sell for more than $100,000, and it is kleptomania and prankery that got way out of hand that led to her incarceration. Among many great things about this book, each of its many dogs practically leaps off the page. Carleen on black standard poodles: “They demand constant, unequivocal love and will leap into your lap as if they were toy versions of themselves and are insulted when ordered to get off. They learn their commands instantly, but not because they are particularly smart. They’re more like teenage boys who joined the army too soon and will do any discipline just to prove they can do it.” Swados (My Depression: A Picture Book, 2005, etc.), a respected playwright, died at 64 just after finishing this novel.
One of a kind. Deserves a big splash and lots of readers.