Novelist and memoirist Vandenburgh (Architecture of the Novel, 2010, etc.) tells the story of her relationships with two family dogs while exploring her own inner emotional landscapes.
Whistler came into the author’s uprooted life after she and her husband moved to Washington, D.C., from California. But the English springer spaniel soon went from being "two warm and fluffy handfuls of the purest joy" to "a fearful mass of jitters." Vandenburgh attributed the nervousness to his pedigreed background, until she realized that he may have been picking up and mirroring her own anxieties. Living apart from all she had known, including her own teenage children, she felt fearful, lonely and as though "[she'd] lost some element in [her] sense of cosmic usefulness." The author began seeing a therapist and then took Whistler to a trainer to help him overcome his problems. “Thousands of dollars” later, her dog evolved into an excellent companion upon whom she and her husband doted. When Whistler died tragically, the grief-stricken couple immediately adopted a puppy from an animal shelter and named him Thiebaud. From the start, this new dog seemed to revel in the simple joy of being alive. Vandenburgh and her husband eventually moved back to California, where Thiebaud shattered their fragile, hard-won peace by unexpectedly attacking another dog and plunging the family into conflict with the town's residents. Vandenburgh’s work is strongest in its depiction of the sometimes-intense, life-changing bonds that can form between humans and dogs. A lack of sustained reflection on the author’s internal conflicts, however, undermines the narrative’s impact on readers.
Sincere and at times even lyrical, but not especially compelling.