Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review: What the Dog Ate

By Jami Deise

President Harry S. Truman’s most famous quote is, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” The irony is, he never actually said it – it’s a paraphrase from a play about Truman. Nevertheless, not only is the sentiment true in Washington, but in these days of starter marriages, telecommuting, 24/7 jobs and helicopter parenting, it’s true everywhere. The only friend who’ll stick by you through thick and thin is the four-legged one who barks. It’s a lesson that Maggie Baxter, the heroine in Jackie Bouchard’s novel “What the Dog Ate” learns the hard way.

San Diego-based Maggie’s best friend is a chocolate lab named Kona, who’ll eat anything (more on that later), goes ballistic at certain trigger words (requiring his owners to utilize pig Latin), and is up for any adventure. And he does Maggie an enormous favor by eating a certain pair of panties -- panties that aren’t Maggie’s.

Maggie is an accountant who’s been working 24/7 for the past few years as her company prepares what could be a blockbuster drug for diabetes. Once the drug gets FDA approval, the stock price will explode, giving Maggie a windfall that will allow her to retire and finally start that bike-tour business with her husband, Dave.

Instead, after being gone for several days at a conference, Maggie comes home to find a strange woman’s panties in her dog’s digestive tract. And while she’s prepared for a huge fight and for Dave to grovel for forgiveness, what she isn’t prepared for is Dave’s declaration that he’s leaving. (or eaving-lay, since “leaving” is one of Kona’s trigger words.) Yes, Dave is leaving Maggie for Jessica, the grade school teacher he met four months ago at the gym.

The sudden break-up of her marriage sends Maggie into an understandable tailspin. She quits her all-consuming job for a part-time position, and celebrates by holing up with Kona and the single woman’s two favorite men (Ben & Jerry’s). She fights early-morning insomnia with vodka.

A further spiral into depression is halted when Maggie’s brother Kevin moves in, fresh off his own break-up. With his encouragement, Maggie takes up yoga (where she meets her new best friend, Helen), begins a regular biking routine with Kevin’s friend Russell, and starts volunteering one night a week at the museum. She even resumes making her famous smoothies.

All these changes result in a thinner, happier Maggie. But the divorce is getting contentious (Dave wants half of everything, including her stock) and Dave is still with the other woman. As Maggie begins to embark on dating, she vows to see life the way Kona does, and treat every opportunity as a chance to say yes.
In “What the Dog Ate,” Bouchard has created a heroine who finds herself in what could be clichéd situations, but she completely avoids clichés. Her discovery of her husband’s adultery is funny but heartbreaking. Reading these scenes felt like getting kicked in the stomach. I was furious with Dave and wished I could go into the novel and shake him. At the same time, Maggie’s specific situation is unusual. Most of the time it’s the husband who’s working 24/7, and he leaves his wife (and usually their children) for his skinny, childless colleague.

Maggie’s recovery from the hurt and shame is slow and realistic. She and Dave met in college, and he was her “one and only.” Even as she takes steps to get on with her life, and even as she continues to fume at his behavior, she still grieves over the death of the relationship.

Bouchard has also created supporting characters who are real and three-dimensional. Each of these characters is fully his or her own person. Their actions reveal who they are, rather than descriptions and explanations from the protagonist. She is subtle enough as a writer that the reader can make decisions about the characters independent of Maggie’s judgment.

The book’s flaws are few and insignificant. The sense of urgency Bouchard establishes in the beginning of the book flags after the mid-point. I found Maggie’s instant friendship with Helen to be a tad unbelievable. And I was surprised that Dave didn’t seem to have any regrets over ending his marriage to a woman he’d known for 20 years to be with a woman he’d known for 20 weeks. After Maggie had made all the changes he’d been longing for, shouldn’t he have been a little bit interested? I wanted to know more about their relationship; for instance, why did they end up not having children?

“What the Dog Ate” is a book about divorce that elicits all the emotions that a divorce does – heartbreak, anger, relief, amusement, acceptance. Read this book…. But do not read it if your husband is around!
Oh, and the chapter titles are really funny, too.

Thanks to Jackie Bouchard for the book in exchange for an honest review. "What the Dog Ate" is currently $2.99 for Kindle.

You might also enjoy:

1 comment:

Jackie Bouchard said...

Thanks Jami and Chick Lit Central for taking the time to read and review my book! I really appreciate it!