This novel about a man and his dog is also about unexpected connections and the strange turns life can take.
One day, while driving to pick up his diabetes medicine and a two-liter bottle of Pepsi at his local Walgreens, Louis McDonald Jr., in a panic at having spotted his ex-wife’s car, turns “left instead of right” and finds himself on an unfamiliar street, in front of a house with a sign out front advertising “FREE DOGS.” Soon Louis is in possession of a companionable border collie. Harry Davidson, the man who gives Louis the dog, tells him the pooch is named Layla after the Eric Clapton song about George Harrison’s wife, whom Clapton subsequently (briefly) married. The encounter, a harbinger of things to come, changes the trajectory of Louis’ life, knocking it off its previous passive path. Having made one unpredictable decision, Louis, 63 years old, recently retired, and anticipating an inheritance following the death of his father, begins to make more of them—some of the more questionable choices stemming from an inexplicable preoccupation with Harry Davidson’s wife. Louis’ post-marital life heretofore had been one primarily of solitude and inaction—stretches of watching TV in his chair, sipping beer, punctuated by visits from his “dull and fine” brother-in-law bearing leftover restaurant meals—but as he begins to take actions, both admirable and ill-advised, he starts to connect with those around him, set new patterns, and, ultimately, chart a new path into his future. Writing with insight and wit, Miller (Always Happy Hour, 2017, etc.) is both unsparing and sympathetic as she captures the perspective of a character who, initially at least, comes off as not terribly appealing. But at a slow, deliberate pace befitting the story’s Southern setting, she reveals Louis to be something more than the emotionally limited sad sack he may initially be taken for—an irascible old coot, sure, but a lovable one you can’t help but root for.
Miller’s deliciously engaging, gently quirky, surprisingly hopeful novel seals her spot in the pantheon of Southern fiction writers.