What happens when nothing happens? Maryanne wonders in A Year of Cats and Dogs, a darkly funny yet hopeful novel about a woman in mid-life who feels surrounded by death. She answers her own question by deciding to find out.
“I wanted to embrace entropy, to stop working so hard at keeping things up, to go AWOL from the productive world I’d so long been a part of,” she tells us at the beginning of the novel. “The clearer it became that Phillip wasn’t coming back, the more I wanted to hurry up and let things go just to see what would happen.”
As it turns out, a lot happens. Even as Maryanne’s world slows down and comes apart, curious revelations begin to emerge about the daily life she’s formerly taken for granted. She discovers she can hear the thoughts of animals, starting with her own opinionated dog and cat. Then the veterinarian at the animal shelter where she volunteers offers her a job as a dog whisperer and asks her on a date to his mother’s funeral. When her father falls ill, she is reunited with her estranged sister, and when he dies they learn about his secret life.
The book contains recipes for the consoling, if plain, foods Maryanne cooks for her family and friends, along with the inner dialog that accompanies them, and each chapter is linked to a corresponding chapter in the I Ching, reflecting that book’s age-old wisdom, which says that sometimes no action is the best action of all.
©2009 Margaret Hawkins (P)2010 Cornerstone
“Hawkins spins an offbeat and delightful tale of a mid-life anti-crisis…the unhurried and lighthearted narrative…is a pleasant departure from the standard mid-life crisis story.” (Publishers Weekly)
“I relished this quirky, sparkling novel.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Hawkins seamlessly weaves together many eclectic elements: soup recipes, I Ching meditations, bits of maudlin poetry, a pet’s simple request for toast, the heartache of death. You don’t have to be an animal lover to enjoy this funny and moving debut novel.” (Library Journal)
I bought this because I am a fan of Heather Henderson's narration. I first encountered her listening to "Brain on Fire," a great book which is being made into a film starting Dakota Fanning, and I also really enjoyed Heather reading "The Curve of Time" (another fantastic memoir). So, when I saw this on sale, I grabbed it. I am so glad I did!
This is a whimsical and quitely wise slice-of-life type romance. Maryanne, childless and entering her 50s, is not your typical heroine. She is not pinning after children she will not have, and when her long-term relationship ends, it's not a drama filled event, and it "feels" very real, like the kind of thing that can happen, does happen, to some couples. On top of that, her father's health is failing.
Maryanne isn't unaffected by these losses, and her reaction seemed to me to be psychologically true. I could relate to her desire to slow down and shut out everything - her quiet grieving process and the way events naturally lead to change. And I appreciated how the author tied in the wisdom of the IChing, using it as a framing device for Maryanne's moments of wisdom infused with life humor. Some might object to the quirky "pet whisperer" aspects of this book - where Maryanne discovers she can "hear" pet's thoughts, but I found it charming and put to good comic effect.
Heather's voice is perfect for this thoughtful, funny book. And if you love animals, well, you can't go wrong giving this a listen.
This story is organized around the principles/theorems of the iChing. And in my point of view, that's where the interest begins and ends. If you like books that are all about everything working out perfectly, a woman ending up with a new man while her old man helicopters in to get her back, a woman who succeeds in business with everything she touches, has symmetry in all aspects of her life, hits home runs all around, then this is a book for you. She's so successful at everything it's hard not to hate her. If, on the other hand, you want a story that has real people dealing with real issues and not necessarily winning all the time, then I suggest you look elsewhere.This book is, though, on the most superficial level, entertaining and quite hilarious at times, especially the insights made by the animals.
This is also another book with RECIPES - what is this all about lately? - dividing the chapters, and not only recipes but cloying and annoying...POETRY!!!
So, buyer beware. If you're desperate for entertainment and for something to read at the beach, then by all means step up and pay up. If you want something with a little more meat, with a protagonist who won't precipitate any envy on your part, especially in this economy, I'd shop around a bit more.
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