When Janice finds the Lab Rottweiler mix puppy in a parking lot, she has no idea of the importance he'll take on in her life. She is a fearful, damaged person who has never completely healed after a brutal attack she endured as a young woman. She was afraid to walk alone, imagining danger around every curve, wary of unknown people and unable to trust her own intuition about the safety of unfamiliar situations. Barney accompanied her all over, picking up on her panic and fear, being always vigilant and ready to protect her against any and all threats. That he had been attacked by another, bigger dog as a puppy just fueled his dog aggressive behavior. And so these two damaged souls venture out on walks together, keeping each other in check and always alert to the possibility of menace. Janice chooses to walk Barney in empty areas where they won't encounter other dogs or people. In the course of their walks, through all seasons and weather conditions in a wooded park near her home, Janice ruminates on what drives her and she slowly pushes herself to not only recognize the fear she has carried for so long but also to find ways to get past it. She watches Barney's pure enjoyment in nature and she starts to take pleasure in her surroundings and to live in the beauty of the moment even as they must sometimes face their biggest fears (other dogs and people) on their solitary walks.
Alternating between her present, walking in the woods with an aging Barney, and flashbacks grounding her fears in the context of her past, the narrative is lyrical and organic feeling. She writes of her development as a writer and the stumbling blocks she faces in that part of her life (some of which she creates herself). She revels in Barney and her love for him, relying on him as they tramp through the woods. And she muses on her fear of losing this dog who has helped her to grow so much, seeing him slow down, holding her breath through his health crises, wondering how she'll ever let him go and yet knowing she must. The writing here is beautiful and contemplative and spilling over with emotion. The title is clearly a metaphor for Gary's life, the way in she has lived so closely, afraid to venture out beyond her small comfortable radius. But in the end she has spooled that leash out, first taking tentative steps and then more confident strides as she pursues her dream of writing, as she walks down darker paths in the woods, as she lets go of the unhealthy, constraining fear that has had her so tightly leashed for so long, and as she faces life without Barney to protect her. Those who enjoy reading about nature and dogs and the struggle of writing will definitely appreciate the poetic imagery and shimmering language here. We should all be so lucky as to have had long, thoughtful walks with a Barney in our lives.
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Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.