Written by Jan Kline on July 24, 2009

Nose Down, Eyes Up

32532686.JPGIf you’ve ever wondered what your dog is thinking, this book is for you. Merrill Markoe has given it a lot of thought, and the words coming out of her dog characters’ jaws seem as plausible as they are original, not to mention funny. She also does a convincing job on the voice of her main human character, Gil, a marginally employed carpenter/caretaker who shuffles from one empty, under-construction guest house to another with his collection of dogs and eight sad cardboard boxes. Although he’s pushing 50, Gil does daily combat with his internal 22-year-old: the part of him that still declares it “beer thirty,” chases anything in a skirt, and is arguably more of a dog than any of the four canines he shares his life with. For most of the book, the 22-year-old has the upper hand.

The dog’s voices are by turns hilarious and poignant. Fruity, the Golden Retriever, spends most of her time groveling, having been rescued from an abusive home:

Fruity, who was chewing her feet, looked up when I raised my voice. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Don’t beat me. See? I’m cowering! You like that, right?”

“No! I do not like that, and, as I have told you over and over, no one is going to beat you! f***ing rescues!” I said, perhaps too loudly, because she curled her tail beneath her and ran out of the room.

Jimmy, the alpha dog, lectures the others on owner manipulation and other vital dog subjects:

“Everyone, pop quiz. A book: edible or inedible? Answer: edible. But only certain portions. The dust jacket, the front cover, and the last few pages. All totally edible.”

Cheney, the shepherd-coyote mix, is a bit of a crank:

“Sara’s a**hole shepherd keeps hooking his goddamn head over my back,” Cheney agreed.

“Ignore him,” said Jimmy. “let him think he’s boss. It’s his house.”

“But I don’t have to let him hump me, do I?” said Cheney. “What is this? Rikers Island?”

picture-278.jpgDink, the dachshund, can’t grasp the concepts of “inside” and “outside”, no matter how many ways Jimmy explains it:

“Can I ask a question?” said Dink. “I know you’ve covered this before, but…tell me one more time: Is it pee inside, poo inside, eat and play outside? And what about puke? Is that inside or outside?”

“Here’s a mnemonic device. Everything starting with p is outside. P is for ‘patio.’ P is for ‘pool,’ p is for ‘plants.’ P is for ‘poo’ and ‘pee.’ And ‘puke.’”

“Are you sure?” said Dink. “That doesn’t sound right. If we’re supposed to poo outside, why does Gil collect it in a bag and bring it inside?”

Markoe has been a stand-up comic and a writer for David Letterman, and it shows. But the book also has a plot, realistic if foible-rich characters, and gives you even more reason to wonder what your dog really thinks of you.

author photo: Andy Prieboy

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