Monday, February 7, 2011

Woman's best friend

The Hidden Life of Humans: a novel. Hmmmm . . . From whose viewpoint, you may wonder. From the point of view of Murphy the dog, of course.

This “funny coming-of-middle-age book” by Erika Ritter is a winner. And yes, she’s the Canadian novelist-playwright-broadcaster who in 2009 gave us The Dog by the Cradle, the Serpent Beneath: Some Paradoxes of Human-Animal Relationships ( Key Porter Books); see blog post for March 10, 2010.

Published in 1997, The Hidden Life “stars” Dana, a writer who lives alone except when trysting with a line of married lovers. Early on, she agrees to dog sit Murphy, who lives with one of her ex-boyfriends. From that point on, the book is narrated alternately by Dana and Murphy (each signaled by a different type face).

Dana learns about the dog; the dog learns about Dana, and imperceptibly, they bond. At one point, Murphy gets the chance to run for his freedom, but after deliberating, he decides instead to “come” . . . the third time Dana issues the command. Ultimately, Dana has a similar choice, and makes the same decision.

Besides often being funny and perceptive about other humans, parts of the book seem to foreshadow Ritter’s later nonfiction book, as over time, Dana begins to think differently about Murphy and other animals.

At one point, she witnesses “actor” wolves having to be trained to be fierce for their parts in a TV program. When she realizes they’ve been reduced to the domesticated dependence of dogs, the realization tears her up. And rightly so.

(Key Porter Books, Toronto, Canada, 1977)

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