Yet another dog book — not!

Mark DotyMark Doty’s Dog Years is just simply a very beautiful book. It’s beautifully written, beautifully molded. It’s an exciting book because Doty CAN write dogs in such a way that they are totally believable as the animals they are (which relies on close and loving observance), he also makes clear and meaningful human attachment to dogs (which takes introspection and careful autoethnography which doesn’t assume we all have the same kind of relationship with them). He has melded in this book a light touch on politics and cataclysm (he lived through 9/11 in New York and the death of a partner with Aids), relationships with humans and animals, his own career and commitments as a writing teacher and poet, and his homes and travels. Writing plus relationships (with humans, animals and place) plus politics and clear unapologetic sensibilities. The resulting work is seamless, which is so impressive. If I go back to the other books I’ve been reviewing (see Dogs x 3) they all slightly disappoint me because they come down heavily on one aspect of emphasis (fact, science, overly personal, journalism tone, idiosyncratic forgive-me-for-my-style, to be rough on books I have nevertheless liked) but Doty does exactly what I aspire to as a writer who crosses genres — gets the combination so right it’s dazzling but subtle.

Often authors who try to combine different genres of writing resort to fragmentary styles or interlaced chapters which do the one type of writing or concern and then the other and even though this distinction is clear to the reader as an interpretive method, it often feels clunky. Doty has chosen the interleaving method where each chapter is followed by an entr’acte (“between the acts”) in italic. But instead of signalling “here is real life” in non-italic, and here’s the instrospection on it in italic, we get a mixture of all kinds of sidebars which deal in a multitude of interesting details, thoughts and commentary. So as readers it doesn’t feel like we’re taking heavy treads through the book — right foot, left foot — so much as inhabiting a very interesting head — Doty’s — as he makes his way through a multifaceted story of many losses and many gains.

It’s a beautifully constructed book which treats a reader with respect and has an expectation that this reader brings intelligence and humanity to their reading. Now for his poetry…