I had bought the book on an impulse while in London last January and it has sat on my nightstand ever since, waiting for a time or I’d be brave enough to dive into it. You see, just like the author I had lost several significant people in the last years. But contrary to Emily, I had my dog. I was a dog family, as she says.
For a young Emily, a dog stands for a normal life. For her, dogs are depicted only in happy families; the kind that were marketed to us in the 50s. With a regular daily routine and predictable everything. It embodies family. It is a stark contrast to her own life where, as she says, they “moved as casual and indecisively as dog family people channel-surf. “
Her tone is light and sometimes forcefully funny as she takes the reader through her life, growing up in an unconventional family.
What felt like a great adventure at the start of the book, her riddled descriptions used to explain people or things go a bit stale as they fill almost every sentence in the book. While they are interesting, they also slow the reader down, often without the value that she aims for.
Her tone is witty, even as she moves on to describe the deaths she hinted at in the title of the book. Throughout we get glimpses of how she feels unlovable and how she plays a part that people expect. In one short chapter and seemingly only a week of workshops she gets over that, which falls a bit short of reality. She hints at years of therapy, but more as comfort sessions than helping her through it.
It feels like she is almost automatically doing everything right that needs to be done to get through grief, with no setbacks or relapses of sadness, even when the deaths pile up. I believe that there would have been more there that could help us understand her journey and would have surely made me be able to relate to her better.
Perhaps it is because I expected something different from the back cover of the book, but I can’t agree with the raving reviews I see online. It surely is a book worth reading, but I wasn’t “laughing out loud” nor “in tears” as the critics write. The author’s style is amusing, and we get glimpses of her journey through grief and how she heals. Those are the strong points I see. But I also see her glossing over many personal experiences and while the road she bluntly puts in the title is her road to becoming her own dog family,
it raised expectations for me of how getting a dog helped her through grief. And the description of the book as I bought it, in combination with the title, fails my expectation of having a dog help her through her grief. Instead the dog is one chapter in the book of her journey through life.
The dog does make her understand something, though. In the end, her view of “dog families” changes. She realizes that you don’t have to be a certain way to be a dog family, and implied, any family. I assume she also means that she doesn’t have to be a certain way to be loved and therefore is not unlovable, but that is merely my interpretation.
My dog Douglas was 15 and we had a great life, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Douglas was my family, my ally, my best friend. He was the one that got me through all my deaths and now that I have one of the biggest losses in my life – him – he is not here to help. It feels wrong to get a dog to help me cope with my grief, so this one, I will have to get through on my own.