Claudia KawczynskaSigrid NunezThe publishing world’s Year of the Dog celebration starts off auspiciously with the release of two stellar works that explore the life-changing effect dogs can have on us.
Novelist Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend (Riverhead Books) is a poignant story of loss and grief as well as a meditation on the redemptive relationship between a woman and the Great Dane she inherits. Poet Stephen Kuusisto’s memoir, Have Dog, Will Travel (Simon & Schuster), is, true to its title, a joyous trip into the intensity of the partnership between a blind man and his guide dog.
The Friend is told from the viewpoint of an unnamed female narrator, a writer and teacher who’s floundering after her best friend and mentor, a much-admired literary figure, commits suicide. Contemplative and darkly funny, she examines the meaning of their friendship and questions the point of being a writer après le déluge of profound loss. In recalled and imagined conversations, she probes the reasons for his death, often relying on examples from literature (great quotes abound).
In the midst of this introspection, she gets a call from her mentor’s “Wife Three,” who informs her that he has bequeathed her his dog, a Harlequin Great Dane named Apollo. And though she lives in a small, pet-unfriendly NYC apartment, she accepts the bequest. At that point, the story’s focus...