Punitive Damages by Jim Lively

Punitive Damages

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A kindhearted couple rescues a down-on-her-luck Weimaraner, but now all parties must face a five-day trial period.

Stories of animal-human bonding are not uncommon, but what sets Lively’s (The Puzzle Aesthetic, 2012) novella apart is the fact that the story is told from the point of view of a dog. When readers first meet the story’s protagonist, a Weimaraner, she is on a hospital bed being treated for injuries from an accident she can’t remember. As her mind clears, she realizes that she has no recollection of anything from her previous life, not even her name. But she becomes ever more certain that she “must be of aristocratic stock,” as she is all too aware of the indignities of institutional life in the animal hospital as she heals from her fractured leg and broken teeth. She is eventually adopted by a “grumpy guy” and his “kinder and gentler” female partner, who give her the name PJ. As the three get to know each other, PJ teaches her new owners about her needs by using her wits and dexterity to escape from every restraint and enclosure, often with hilariously destructive results. Although the man becomes increasingly irritated with each new transgression, his essential good nature, coupled with the patient and perceptive influence of the woman, leads to eventual understanding and true friendship between dog and human. Lively’s writing is vivid and engaging, and he creates three believable and memorable characters. His detailed description of PJ’s perspective on the trial period of her adoption may offer important insights to help new pet owners understand the emotional needs that lie behind destructive behavior. The author skillfully introduces PJ’s point of view, with a focus on scent that makes it realistically doglike. But developing such an alternative narration becomes complex, and Lively never makes it clear how PJ can understand the couple’s English conversations perfectly, yet she seems unable to communicate directly with the other dogs she encounters. Such inconsistencies jar a little, and a reader is left feeling that PJ’s existence must be a little lonely with so much knowledge and so few ways to express herself. Perhaps a series of PJ books is in order to allow the further exploration of the inner world of dogs.

A captivating story of one dog’s experience of crisis and healing, illustrated with the author’s evocative portraits of Weimaraners.

Pub Date: June 30th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-939166-97-5
Page count: 174pp
Publisher: Merrimack Media
Program: Kirkus Indie
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by Garth Stein