In singer-songwriter Nelson’s latest (The Christmas List, 2004, etc.), a Massachusetts freelance writer works through a raft of crises with the help of his unlikely confidante, an aging dog named Stella.
Paul Gustavson doesn’t lack for woes. He’s newly divorced, and half a continent away his father has suffered a stroke that will require him to relearn every basic skill. Paul’s long-distance girlfriend, Tamsen, splits her time and affections between him and another man, one whose job may move him (and Tamsen?) across the country. Paul’s rivalry with his superachiever brother seems to be taking a bad turn. His manuscript for the big-selling For Morons series, Nature for Morons, is overdue. He drinks too much. Perhaps worst of all, his loyal companion, Stella, now 15, is half-lame and incontinent, and the end draws near. What’s unusual here is that the confiding goes both directions. Paul doesn’t talk at his dog; he talks with her, and she talks back, imparting doggy wisdom, providing calm and grounded advice and love without condition. (She also conforms to type—the title is her line every time Paul comes home.) As Paul tries to reassert control of his life after even further heartache, the book takes a detour into the clichés of addiction (drink is the BAD dog, it turns out) and of relationship-speak (there are painfully earnest e-mails and IMs between Tamsen and Paul), yet its sweetness and low-key comic charm keep it from falling into schlock.
Like a big, friendly mutt—a bit too eager to please, but sweet-souled and companionable.