Book Review: A Big Little Life by Dean Koontz

There have been only a few books by Dean Koontz that I didn’t like.  Most of his newer books I love, holding them in a place of honor, re-reading some, like From the Corner of His Eye, many times to absorb the richness of his language, his syntax, his metaphors.

Unfortunately, I have to put A Big Little life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog Named Trixie into the group of Koontz’s books which I did not like.

Now people who know me well will exclaim in astonishment, “What! But you’re a dog lover! You volunteer with the SPCA, you rescue stray cats, you only adopt animal shelter dogs. You loved Marley & Me; how could you NOT love a book by your favorite author about one of your favorite animals, dogs?”

The problem with this book is best summed up by the reviewer comment on the cover from People magazine: “A love letter to his golden retriever.”

Love letters are, for the most part, highly personal. They’re not meant to be read by the masses. They’re the most heartfelt communications one can write, pouring our one’s feelings, baring one’s soul to the beloved. But they should be private, not set forth as a memoir.

Trixie was Dean Koontz’ golden retriever, a former service dog retired from serving a handicapped woman due to an injury the dog sustained to her front leg. She is offered to the reluctant Koontzes, Dean and his wife, Gerda, and they adopt the beautiful dog, quickly falling in love with her.   She dies much to young, Dean and his wife mourn her greatly, the end.

The problem I have with this book is that Trixie is perfect.  And why wouldn’t she be? Trained as a service dog for the handicapped, she must be highly intelligent, eager and willing to please.  And so she is.  But the problem with a golden dog wearing a halo is that she is boring as hell.  What the author is in love with — the quirks and idiosyncrasies of his beloved pet — are as embarrassing as a grandparent whipping out the wallet of snapshots of the grand kids brushing their teeth and watching television. To you they’re boring snapshots, to Grandma, the crown jewels of photography.  That’s the way most of this book is;  the author is saying, “See what a wonderful dog Trixie was?” And you’re nodding and looking at your watch, hoping to sneak away from the proud papa.

There is, however, one aspect of this book that made me stick with it to the end. Dean Koontz still has an amazing gift with words, and the portions of the book where he writes about dogs in general, or the bond between people and animals, shines with intelligence, insight and creativity. I would love to read a book of his essays about animals; I think I would enjoy these portions of the memoir if they were extracted into a volume of personal essays on animals rather than a recount of Trixie’s spoiled life.

And yes, she is spoiled. That was another thing I found distasteful about the book.  There is an awkward self-consciousness about wealth that I understand, given the author’s background of growing up in poverty, but honestly I didn’t like hearing about his fancy beach house, his mansion with the elevator, the new mansion he was building, or Trixie’s weekly grooming sessions. Weekly? Are you kidding me? First of all, it’s incredibly unhealthy to bathe a dog weekly. Secondly, all that money wasted on a billion plush toys and beds in every room of the mansion for one dog made me a little queasy.  The Koontzes are generous people, giving much of their fortune to charities and foundations, but I can’t stomach people spoiling pets to that degree.  Maybe I’m being a judgmental witch. Maybe I shouldn’t talk, given that my cats have a playroom.  Okay, it was our family room, and we just didn’t bother moving the furniture back in after a Christmas party in which we left that room open for the kids to play games.  Still. Groomers every week? Sigh….

I wanted to like this book. I really did.  Maybe you should give it a read, particularly if you’re a golden retriever lover, too.

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