Why do dogs speak so profoundly to our inner lives? When Mark Doty decides to adopt a dog as a companion for his dying partner, he finds himself bringing home Beau, a large golden retriever, malnourished and in need of loving care. Beau joins Arden, the black retriever, to complete their family. As Beau bounds back into life, the two dogs become Mark Doty's intimate companions, his solace, and eventually the very life force that keeps him from abandoning all hope during the darkest days. Their tenacity, loyalty, and love inspire him when all else fails.
Dog Years is a remarkable work: a moving and intimate memoir interwoven with profound reflections on our feelings for animals and the lessons they teach us about life, love, and loss. Mark Doty writes about the heart-wrenching vulnerability of dogs, the positive energy and joy they bring, and the gift they bear us of unconditional love. A book unlike any other, Mark Doty's surprising meditation is radiantly unsentimental yet profoundly affecting. Beautifully written, Dog Years is a classic in the making.
Award-winning memoirist (Firebird ) and poet (School of the Arts ) Doty explores, with compassion and intelligence, the complicated, loving territory inhabited by devoted dogs and their loyal humans. In 1994, when the author's longtime lover was dying of AIDS, beloved pet Arden kept the surviving partner afloat. A new adoptee, the rambunctious Beau, in his "sloppy dog way," becomes a part of the tribe and carries some of the burden of grief. Doty says Beau "carried something else for me too, which was my will to live." In a time of devastating pain, as well as in happier times, Doty's two dogs are the "secret heroes of my own vitality." The dog characters in the book are irresistible, and the arcs of their lives are delineated with the tenderness and passion of the truly smitten. Arden's quiet nobility and slow decline breaks the heart, while Beau's goofy enthusiasm peaks with youth and mellows in illness. With a marvelous ability to present the pain of mourning with a poet's delicate hand, and an irrepressible instinct for joy, Doty delivers a soulful love story which illuminates no less than the big human mysteries: attachment, death, grief, loyalty, happiness. The book nimbly sidesteps sentimentality and lands squarely on a philosophical, inquisitive tone as intellectually evocative as it is emotionally resonant. (Mar.) Copyright (c) 1997-2005 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
March 31, 2007
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Dog Years by Mark Doty
No dog has ever said a word, but that doesn't mean they live outside the world of speech. They listen acutely. They wait to hear a term--biscuit, walk--and an inflection they know. What a stream of incomprehensible signs passes over them as they wait, patiently, for one of a few familiar words! Because they do not speak, except in the most limited fashion, we are always trying to figure them out. The expression is telling: to "figure out" is to make figures of speech, to invent metaphors to help us understand the world. To choose to live with a dog is to agree to participate in a long process of interpretation--a mutual agreement, though the human being holds most of the cards.
What the interpreter must do is tell stories--sometimes to the dog in question. Who hasn't heard a dog walker chattering away to her pet, as if she were serving as a kind of linguistic mirror: "You are scared of that police horse," "Lola loves that ball!" Some people speak for their dogs in the first person, as though the dog were ventriloquizing his owner. There's inevitably something embarrassing about this; a kind of silly intimacy that might seem sweet at home becomes a source of eye-rolling discomfort to strangers.
But most stories about dogs are narrated to other people, as we go on articulating the tales of our animals' lives, in order to bring their otherwise incomprehensible experience into the more orderly world of speech. Taking pictures of your pet serves much the same function; it isn't just about memory and the desire to record, but a way to bring something of the inchoate into the world of the represented. This is a part of the pet owner's work. In order to live within the domestic world, the dog must be named, read, and in some way understood.
Of course, listening to stories about other people's pets is perilous, like listening to the recitation of dreams. Such reports may be full of charm for the dreamer, but for the poor listener they're usually fatally dull. The dreamer has no distance from the spell of the dream, and cannot say just how it mattered so, and language mostly fails to capture the deeply interior character of dreams anyway. We listen with an appreciation for the speaker's intent, but without much interest in the actual story.
Love itself is a bit like that: you can describe your beloved until the tongue tires and still, in truth, fail to get at the particular quality that has captured you. We give up, finally, and distill such feelings into single images: the bronzy warmth of one of his glances, or that way of turning the head she has when she's thinking and momentarily stops being aware of other people. That, we tell ourselves, stands for what we love. But it's perfectly clear that such images explain nothing. They serve as signposts for some incommunicable thing. Being in love is our most common version of the unsayable; everyone seems to recognize that you can't experience it from the outside, not quite--you have to feel it from the inside in order to know what it is.
Maybe the experience of loving an animal is actually more resistant to language, since animals cannot speak back to us, cannot characterize themselves or correct our assumptions about them. They look at us across a void made of the distance between their lives and our immersion in language. "Not a single one of his myriad sensations," wrote Virginia Woolf of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's cocker spaniel, Flush, "ever submitted itself to the deformity of words."