When Dean Koontz fans hear he has written another novel, they order ahead for instant shipping or hot-foot it to their local bookseller to grab a copy. Koontz has been hitting the New York Times bestseller lists for decades, never failing to provide a roller-coaster ride to his readers full of twists, turns, chills and thrills. They will be rocked back on their heels to find that A BIG LITTLE LIFE is a tender, insightful, loving homage to Trixie, a Golden retriever companion dog whom Dean and his wife of 35 years, Gerda, took into their southern California home in 1998.
The Koontzes have long been big supporters of Canine Companions for Independence, a Southern California dog training center. But because of their intense work schedule and frequent travel, they shied from the full-time commitment of bringing a pet of any kind into their home. They were finally persuaded by friends at CCI to adopt a three-year-old Golden retriever who needed placement in a forever home because she could no longer work as a service dog for health reasons.
Enter Trixie, who would change Dean and Gerda’s lives forever. Koontz’s writing style is lightning-speed, page-turning prose of murder and mayhem, high-speed chases and things that go bump in the night. But when he commits this homage to Trixie to paper, he uses all his prodigious writing skills to tell the story not only of companion dogs and this very special one, but also his own autobiography, beginning in his childhood.
The true Koontz aficionado will be just as surprised to find out that Koontz, who often features dogs in his stories, had never owned a dog in his life until Trixie came along. One of his most popular and memorable suspense novels starred a Golden retriever named Einstein in WATCHERS, first published in 1987. From the very beginning of the book, I naturally assumed that the dog was patterned after his own pet. Another popular book, DARK RIVERS OF THE HEART, also features a dog with a “need for speed” --- the miles-per-hour kind who adds a light touch to an otherwise edge-of-your-seat cross-country chase in pursuit of a very bad guy. Both of these books were written well before Trixie came into Dean and Gerda’s life.
Koontz was midpoint in writing THE DARKEST EVENING OF THE YEAR when Trixie left their lives, and he struggled to finish the book, which, like many others, featured a Golden retriever. This time, Trixie was the inspiration behind the story, so it was doubly difficult to have to say goodbye, too soon, and complete the novel.
WATCHERS was the very first Koontz I ever read, and one I have either loaned, given or recommended to dozens of friends and fellow readers over the years --- especially the ones who say, “I never read horror books.” Let it be said right here, and I’m paraphrasing Koontz, who protests this pigeon-holing by saying, “I am NOT a horror writer, I write suspense novels.” I was glad to see that in print in BIG LITTLE LIFE because for years I’ve been trying to convince people that he is shelved in the wrong section of the bookstores.
Now, I have to urge readers who avoid books about dogs who eventually die to put their qualms on the shelf and pick up A BIG LITTLE LIFE. We all know that pets come into our lives and will leave us long before we ourselves go through that pale door. It is one of the hard truths of life that in giving affection to a pet, we give a little bit, or maybe a lot, of ourselves away to another living, loving being who we will have to part with long before we’re ready. Koontz offers an inspirational book of love, hope and humor, and reveals a side of his private life that will surprise and please his readers.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on December 22, 2010
A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog