Review

Gone to the Dogs

by Mary Guterson

What kind of woman steals her ex-boyfriend’s dog? In this
case, a very funny one. Rena is on the downhill side of her 20s,
discontentedly underemployed slinging steaks at Sammy’s
Place, when her fiance Brian goes off on a rafting trip and returns
with a new tall, blond, athletic girlfriend. And now Brian, who
never liked animals, shares a bungalow with his new love and Tilly,
a dog “the size of a Volkswagen.”

Who wouldn’t drive by compulsively a couple times a day?
Who might not stop once, unlatch the gate on the dog’s pen,
and just see if perhaps the dog wanted to get into the
car? The fact that Rena lives in an apartment and has never
really liked animals herself does nothing to dissuade her.
“Big Guy,” as she refers to him, moves in. Other than
needing to eat, poop and be exercised occasionally, Rena rather
warms to him, although she knows he must be temporary --- like her
waitressing job was supposed to be. Meanwhile, her matchmaking
mother goes into full gear, while Rena’s wig-wearing,
ultra-Orthodox Jewish sister seems to be having some second
thoughts about her own marriage choices.

Rena’s landlord Carl is not amused by Big Guy or convinced
by Rena’s stories about how soon she’ll be returning
this dog she is not supposed to have. She binge watches movies
and drinks Diet Coke. “When you’re alone and depressed,
it’s a good idea to pass on Magnolia and
Philadelphia unless you’ve already made a firm
commitment to kill yourself.” She meets Chuck at her
sister’s place, and despite at first mistaking each other for
devout Jews, they begin a tentative, rather formal friendship. He
doesn’t seem fazed by the true tale of how she acquired Big
Guy, and agrees to help her return him without getting caught. And
to further confuse the issues, Brian re-enters the picture.
 

Reading this enjoyable, frothy novel, I couldn’t help
imagining it as one of those 1940s madcap farces, if only 1940s
madcap farces allowed the “f” word. Mary
Guterson’s dry humor renders Rena as self-deprecating,
smart and sassy --- in other words, irresistible. The dialogue is
strong and funny, keeping us turning the pages. Rena tells us
she’s not very good at small talk, but check this out: in the
car with Chuck, she asks him what’s the worst thing
he’s done. 

“What? Is this some kind of personality test?”

“Yes. Like if you were to tell me you’ve killed
somebody, then I might consider making you get out at the next
light.”

“Oh, very good way to suss out the murderers.”

All the characters are lightly but carefully drawn through
Rena’s cynical, keen voice. We are never in doubt that Rena
will be OK in the end, but the journey is still a heck of a lot of
fun. This book will not change your life, and I doubt that
it’s meant to. But it will should make you laugh --- a lot
--- and Rena is one lady who any creature, four-footed or not,
would likely follow home. 

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on January 22, 2011

Gone to the Dogs
by Mary Guterson

  • Publication Date: July 7, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 0312541791
  • ISBN-13: 9780312541798