A cancer-stricken, three-legged Irish wolfhound named Dante embodies the Wisdom of the Ages, in this fervent debut novel from Houston (Waltzing the Cat, 1998, etc.).
.It’s the story of Colorado playwright, ranch owner, and animal lover Rae Rutherford, told by various narrators (including the eponymous mutt), most of whom have been touched somehow by Dante’s serene stoical presence. Among them are: Rae herself (remembering her actress mother and considering her own possible bisexuality, while tearfully awaiting Dante’s demise); her emotionally troubled cross-dressing actor husband Howard (he’s not gay, however); “the best goddamn veterinary surgeon in America” and his Gulf War vet student (both care for Dante); Rae’s forthright ranch-sitter Darlene (who tartly recalls her employer’s misadventures with undependable men); and assorted nonhumans, such as Rae’s already Faithful and Obedient “next dog” Rose and Darlene’s neutered tomcat Stanley (who at least has a nasty sense of humor). The novel is ostensibly “about” Rae’s late-blooming maturity as contented spouse, responsible steward to the earth and all creatures great and small, and confident sexual being. But it keeps circling back to how courageous and inherently knowing her canine companion is (while narrating, Dante approvingly quotes Lao-Tzu and Buddha, to nobody’s surprise). Houston can’t keep the animal out of the book even for a few pages (e.g., at her wedding to Howard, “Dante walked me down the aisle, of course”). And when the dog is finally “put down,” it’s a scene whose effulgent absurdity rivals Dickens’s notoriously lachrymose description of the death of Little Nell. Some people will love this novel. Well, some people watch Fear Factor and The Jerry Springer Show.
A feel-good Reader’s Digest anecdote spun out to booklength.