Monday, February 8, 2010

Review: Dog Years by Mark Doty

When I picked this book up, I expected it to be a memoir about Doty's life with his two beloved dogs. I certainly didn't expect it to be a rumination about life and loss and the ways that grief pushes into your life and holds on. But that is indeed, in many ways, what this is. Arden and Beau, the dogs of the title, just offer a central focus for the philosophical musings put forth here by Doty, a poet and memoirist. His relationship with his dogs is the scrim through which he recalls the slow decline and death of his partner from AIDS. And the dogs weave in and around his eventual relationship with his new partner as well.

But there's an interrupted feel to the writing here with chapters dodging and weaving about with no clear sense of timeline. Of course, starting the narrative with Doty's philosophical conception of dogs and language followed swiftly by the death of Beau, it is clear that this will not follow a conventional timeline or a conventional memoir's path. His writing tries a little too hard to capture poetry in prose and in the end ended up alienating me. I am a sucker for animal stories and yet this one elicited very little response, perhaps because it was more about Doty's cumulative losses and his grief than about the dogs. His dogs clearly meant the world to him but the sometimes overly florid writing and the intrusion of so much else detracted from their stories.

Although Doty claims that his dogs helped to lift him from depression and grief, there was very little uplift here, overwhelmed as it was by depressing outpourings on the ephemerality of life and the certitude of loss. As a reader, I needed a more focused narrative, a smoother integration of his life as a gay man both facing the loss of a beloved partner and finding a new love as well as showing more of the concrete, never-wavering love of his animals. Some animal lovers have praised this book highly while others have panned it so I seem to be fairly alone in thinking it was just an okay read. I did struggle a bit with the style and the disjointedness of the narrative but underneath it all, there was some good bone structure. I had just hoped for more out of it than I found.


  1. I enjoyed the audio version of this book, but I know what you mean about wanting more.

  2. This sounds like a heartbreaking novel. Thank you for your honest, balanced review.

  3. Thanks for the review. I just picked this book up on a whim at a book sale last Sunday, so it's nice to hear someone's point of view.


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