The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine, by Ann Hood

Over time, friends grow apart. This happens more often than we’d like to think. The ideal, often promoted in the media, is the forever friendship dating back to childhood, college, the first job. The reality is, some friends remain close, some stay in touch, and some stop being friends. Children complicate things, especially as they get older. And that’s a basic summary of this moody novel by Ann Hood.

More specifically, the three friends are Elizabeth, Suzanne, and Claudia, and they meet and bond as young hippies in the late 1960s. Sixteen years later, one has lost her mind – and everything else – in the aftermath of a tragedy, another has become a corporate workaholic and control freak, and the third is fatally ill and watching her children rebel against her carefully honed lifestyle. Unfortunately, I never felt like I got to know any of these characters well. I thought Suzanne was the most understandable, probably because I know women who took her trajectory from smoking pot to seeking power. But people learn to deal with the type of catastrophe that Claudia experienced, and while it was the kind of thing that would send anyone into depression, she wasn’t drawn well enough to let the reader understand why she got so much worse over time. Nor was it clear what kind of interventions were or were not attempted. What about her friends? Family? Elizabeth was less of a blank, but she, too, seemed incomplete.

I’m not recommending for or against this book. It was well-written, and if your goal is to read beautiful writing, go for it. If you need character development and a plot line, think twice, however.

There were no animal characters.


October 3, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, families, friendship, Uncategorized, women's fiction | , | 1 Comment

Goldilocks and the Three Cousins — Vacation Part Two: Utah and Idaho

Some family history for context: Mom’s younger brother, Ross, married his high school sweetheart, Joyce, when they were both 18. This was back in the 1950s, when such things were closer to the norm. After a few years, Ross and Joyce had a baby, then moved from their hometown in Illinois to Colorado, where they had two more babies. Then they moved to Idaho, the kids grew up, Ross tragically died of cancer in his late 40s, Joyce remarried a nice guy named Sam, the kids married, at least one of the kids divorced and remarried, they all converted from Catholicism to Mormonism, they all had a bunch of children, two now have grandchildren or step-grandchildren, and they all stayed in Idaho. The last I saw of them was in Colorado, when we were all children. Mom stayed in touch with Joyce, however, so when we began planning this trip, a visit to Joyce, Sam, and the Idaho cousins became part of the itinerary.

I wasn’t sure how this was going to go down. I even fretted about it, because I that’s one of the things I do best — fret. But realistically, I figured we’d end up somewhere between a disaster and a fairy tale. It was closer to a fairy tale: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, to be specific. Cousin #1 was too perfect, Cousin #2 was too … something, and Cousin #3 was just right! The cousins are aligned by the order in which we visited them, which is not birth order.

However, first we visited Joyce and Sam. As you may recall from the previous post, Dave and I arrived hellishly late and Joyce had to meet Mom at the airport. So they had a nice morning reconnecting and talking about my late Uncle Ross and bonding and all that, while Dave and I tried to recover from our travel ordeal. We then drove from Salt Lake City to Sam and Joyce’s home close to the Utah/Idaho border, and officially began the “visiting relatives” portion of the trip. I can’t say enough good things about Sam and Joyce as hosts. They were wonderfully generous and cordial. Sam is incredibly easy to get along with, and Joyce fell all over herself trying to make us feel at home.

Then it was off to visit Cousin #1 in Idaho Falls. I have pictures, but there were major camera issues during this trip and so I do not have access to those pictures yet. They’ll be posted eventually, although I don’t post pictures of minor children, so it will just be the adults. So why did I deem Cousin #1 “too perfect”? That’s said with quite a bit of admiration, but also a sense that he’s not someone I’d hang out with if we lived in the same city. Different styles, different values, different modes of being. He’s a good guy, I like his wife, I’m sure the 5 boys — 4 of whom are 8 or younger — will grow up to be delightful young men, etc., etc. But really, their house is astonishingly neat and clean with no household help and all those children. This is mind-boggling. There’s a lot of regimentation in their home, which I suppose is necessary with that many children. Also, Cousin #1 gets Masters degrees as a sort of hobby, and his wife takes Serious Classes. I admire this to no end. They are like Vulcans. And I am no Vulcan. We had a lovely visit, we ate pizza, and I left hoping that one of the other two cousins would be from my planet.

Cousin #2 is from my planet, but we don’t speak the same language. We visited her the next day. She lives in a modular home (used to be called trailers, but they really are modular homes) on a vast ranch with her husband and a few of their children. Two of her sons live in a house that the rest of the family abandoned due to sewer issues, but they come by each night for dinner. And a married daughter with children lives a short distance away. There are many dogs, some of which are “indoor” dogs and some of which are “outdoor” dogs. The younger daughter is 18 and in a 2-year program that will give her some kind of certificate deeming her beyond great with horses. She loves it, and hopes to work on a dude ranch some day handling the horses, possibly in Colorado. Dave and I liked her best, which seemed to throw her because she apparently gets lost in the shuffle and has been reportedly quite active doing the teenage-rebellion thing against her parents. Anyway, I asked her how many horses her immediate family owns, and it’s something like 20. But each horse is owned by an individual instead of there being “family horses.” So her mom has 3, she has 5, one brother has 2, another has 3, etc., up to about 20 total. Cousin #2’s son-in-law hand-builds awesome furniture out of rough-hewn cedar. There will be pictures, I promise.

Then it was off to visit Cousin #3, who was my favorite. He’s the one I’d like to get together with in the future, and he might be coming here in the fall, which would be great! His wife is funny and a bit sarcastic, so I could see bonding with her if I had the chance to get to know them better. He shares my love of cooking and made dinner using cast iron cookware, which is something I’ve gotten into lately. Their house was cozy (“just right”), the one son we met was independent without being annoyingly rebellious (“just right”), and we talked about our lives after dinner without it feeling like an interview with a stranger (“just right”). I wouldn’t exactly call this guy “Baby Bear,” but he matched my “Goldilocks” better than the other two.

Then it was off to Jackson, WY, and the Grand Tetons. That will be the next blog entry, some time early next week. I may even have recovered some of the pictures by then.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | animals, dogs, food, pets, random thoughts, travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment