The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Domestic Violets, by Matthew Norman

Despite some quibbles – Norman is a first-time novelist, so of course there will be a few – I absolutely loved this book. It had emotional depth, humor, some realistic portrayals of men, and a parent/adult-child tension that rang true in many ways. At the same time, the female characters weren’t fleshed out well enough, the emotionally-satisfying ending was not entirely plausible, and Norman has silly definitions of “middle-aged” and “old.” Those aren’t deal killers, though. It’s a good book, a strong first effort, and I trust Norman to do better with his women next time.

In the story, protagonist Tom Violet (an “old” 35 or 36) has a lovely wife, an adorable child, a cute dog, a prestigious job, and a wealthy father. But this is not as good as it seems. He and Anna are having any number of problems, chief among them being a complete failure to communicate when that’s what they need more than anything. He loves Allie, his daughter, who at times is his main reason for hanging in there with his family. The dog is neurotic, the job is soul-sucking, and the father, Curtis, is a famous author who just won the Pulitzer Prize, while Tom has struggled for years to put together a first novel worth showing to anyone. Add a “work crush” to all of this, and Tom’s life is a mess.

But it’s an entertaining mess, and Tom is endearing in his attempts to always do what’s right without selling out any further than he already has at the job. By staying true to himself, Tom begins to take steps to sort through everything, and that is the journey of the book.

Sounds simple. It is and it isn’t. Tom makes any number of mistakes, but his self-deprecating humor and honesty made me cheer him on. He is wickedly funny. So I’m recommending this book.

If you follow this blog because you’re an animal lover, rest assured that nothing bad happens to the dog.


November 14, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, dogs, families, humor | , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen

I loved this book. Rhoda Janzen’s warm, funny, and insightful chronicle of living with her parents while she recovered from both a divorce and a devastating car crash completely delighted me.

Oh, by the way, about the divorce? Janzen’s husband of 15 years ditched her for a guy named Bob, whom he met on This is a major plot point in the memoir, something that Janzen mentions about 200 times. I get the impression she’d have preferred being ditched for someone from But really, if she were going to be ditched, it should have been for someone on

(And now that I’ve written the above paragraph with those website names, my blog is going to be so spammed. Totally spammed. Fortunately, WordPress has a strong spam catcher. But still.)

So that’s the set-up. To recover from her physical and psychic wounds, Janzen, a 40-year-old college professor, takes leave and retreats to her parents’ home. Her parents happen to be Mennonites, however (think sorta kinda Amish but with electricity and cars), which is quite a change from the world she’s been living in. Right off the bat, Janzen’s mother suggests that she date her cousin, who is available and has the added attraction of owning a tractor. And while Janzen’s parents are awesome, her academic don’t quite fly in the Mennonite community, where educating girls is viewed as a waste.

Lovingly, with a light sense of humor combined with the cold eye of someone whose decision to leave has been reinforced, Janzen lets us into her family’s world. She also takes us into the guts of her destroyed marriage. She re-enters the dating world, even with Mennonite men! And at the end, she provides recipes from her family. They’re pretty heavy and high-fat for my tastes, but they’re from another culture.

I loved this book and give it my highest recommendation.

As for animals, there’s nothing to worry about here. Janzen had (maybe still has) a cat. And birds fly. Cows moo. That kind of thing. So this book is perfectly SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

October 2, 2010 Posted by | autobiography, beach book, Book Reviews, families, humor, memoir, nonfiction, recipes | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Weekend in and around Philadelphia

We just had an almost perfect weekend in the Philadelphia area. The trigger was our friend Joel’s birthday party, which was indeed the best part of it.

On Friday, we drove from the Washington ‘burbs up to Haddonfield, NJ, just outside of Philadelphia. We stayed at the Haddonfield Inn, which is where we usually stay when visiting that area. And we keep going back because we love the place. Friday night, we had dinner at Kitchen 233, which was new to us. I had the Angry Shrimp Pasta, and I loved it so much that if we go back, I’m having it again. Dave had salmon of some sort, which he also enjoyed. For dessert, the chocolate souffle is worth the 11-minute wait.

Saturday, we headed to Camden, NJ, and the waterfront, in order to visit the New Jersey Aquarium, now known as Adventure Aquarium . (If I have the story right, the state of New Jersey established the aquarium, then privatized it.) We really liked it. My favorite exhibit was the hippo environment, which stood out for several reasons. First, finally someone is acknowledging that hippos are aquatic animals! Yes, they’re mammals. So are whales. Hippos spend an enormous amount of time in water, and the West African River exhibit features them as the centerpiece. The two young females are frisky and playful, and a joy to watch. We also liked the birds in that room, because they were building nests all over the place, often flying overhead with pieces of straw.

What I didn’t like were the people shoving strollers into crowds, especially the woman mindlessly shoving her enormous SUV of a stroller into the legs of a cluster of people who had nowhere to go. Ninety percent of the stroller-parents used their brains and maneuvered around sanely, allowing their kids to see the exhibits without being rude to everyone else. The other 10 percent of the stroller-parents shouldn’t have been allowed to breed.

Saturday night was the big event, Joel’s birthday party at Marra’s in South Philadelphia. Joel paid for the whole thing and stayed away from the banquet menu, instead providing antipasti, mussels, pizzas, chicken cacciatore, and birthday cake for all of us. The food was excellent, and the server kept her cool with our large table of about 22 or so (we weren’t that demanding, but it’s still a lot of people). The best part, though, was that guests came in from all over — Dallas, Boston, New York, the Washington DC area, and Jacksonville, FL. Joel himself is living in California now, but wanted to party with his East Coast friends. And I knew most of these people from a fantasy baseball league they’d been in with Dave in the 1980s and early 1990s. It’s a good bunch, it was great to see them again, and I miss them already.

We drove home on Sunday, stopping off in Swedesboro, NJ, to have a quick lunch with some of Dave’s relatives. This was also the virgin weekend drive for Dave’s new Prius, which is definitely worth the fuss. At the time he first added gas, the mileage came to 52.07/mph. Not bad. Not bad at all.

September 14, 2009 Posted by | birds, food, travel | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Dumbfounded, by Matt Rothschild

All books should be this much fun to read.

I picked up Matt Rothschild’s slightly-fictionalized-but-mostly-true autobiography with some trepidation. No, it wasn’t that he played with a few situations in order to make them read better — since he’s not Winston Churchill or some other historical figure, I’m not a purist about the details. My question was whether he’d turn out to be whiny. And he wasn’t. Instead, he was very, very funny in describing the misadventures of his sometimes poignant childhood.

Matt’s mother gave him to his grandparents to raise, but that doesn’t mean he was unwanted. He was very much wanted by those very grandparents. Matt frantically whips out one anecdote after another about the 19-room Manhattan apartment, the occasional questions about his parents, his acting out in school and resulting expulsions, being singled out for being Jewish, the chauffeur, the bossy butler, his monster of a mother, and the questions as to whether he was gay (or bisexual — as he humorously put it when he speculated that perhaps the occasional Cindy Crawford fantasy was more about greed than interest in women). And yet his eccentric grandparents, Sophie and Howard, gave him the foundation all children need, that of knowing they are loved and valued no matter what (and Matt gave them plenty of “what” to overlook). That foundation in turn allowed him to make a courageous stand toward the end of the book, when he did something that one of my favorite people lacked the cojones to do when faced with a similar decision.

So yeah, I am now a member of the Matt Rothschild fan club. I don’t just like him as a writer, I also like him as a person. Do I recommend this book? Of course!

This blog exists for animal lovers who don’t want to read about unpleasant incidents involving animals. Dumbfounded is completely SAFE for such readers. There is a dog, Static, who is loved despite his imperfections and Matt’s assumption that Static likes other people better. But Matt takes responsibility for Static, showing that he did indeed learn some important lessons from his grandparents.

September 10, 2009 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, humor | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Dear American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles

This very short (180 pages) book starts off as a letter of complaint from one Bennie Ford, who is angry at American Airlines for keeping him from attending his daughter’s wedding. In my experience, this kind of thing could happen on almost any airline, and right now American is on the very short list of airlines I don’t actively hate, but the point of the story is more how Bennie has messed up his life. He squandered his talents, he drank too much, he ruined relationships, and he doesn’t actually know the daughter whose wedding he’s likely to miss.

What I liked about the book was the free-flowing anger and regret Bennie writes about as he slowly comes to grips with the fact that yet another milestone event has been ruined even though he did everything right this time. Poor Bennie, he can’t win for losing. It’s not what I’d call a great book, but I do recommend it for the sheer emotionality and honesty.

Is this book safe for animal lovers? Well, Bennie very existence results from compassion shown for a possum. But there are three nasty little images elsewhere in the book. I doubt they’ll give you nightmares, so I will declare this book MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers.

February 21, 2009 Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, humor, travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment