They say dogs and babies will steal a scene every single time — so be careful concerning when you feature them. Because one well-placed puppy? He’ll completely capitalize on the attention of your audience, forcing everything in the background to blur.
Sadly, I’d say Merrill Markoe’s Walking In Circles Before Lying Down is proof that just isn’t true. Not even a cute dog could divert my focus from all the other bizarre happenings in this Los Angeles-based novel.
Among narrator Dawn Tarnauer’s many problems — including a meddling sister, an entrepreneurial mother and a distant jerk of a boyfriend — is one tiny new development: her dog Chuck seems to be talking to her.
Well, he doesn’t seem to be. He is. And Chuck has plenty to say.
Walking In Circles Before Lying Down is a look at Dawn’s life as it slowly, but surely, begins to break down. Newly dumped by her boyfriend Paxton, an arrogant radio DJ, Dawn moves into her little sister Halley’s mobile home in Malibu and takes a job at a local veterinary. A serious dog lover, Chuck serves as Dawn’s closest ally and companion during this turbulent part of her life.
So I guess it should come as no shock that as Dawn struggles with entering a “new phase” in her life, she relies heavily on Chuck to comfort and support her as the Tarnauers, as a group, continually fail her. Halley gives her shelter, sure, but can’t bring herself to help her sister beyond offering some of the same pat “advice” she gives her celebrity clients, some of whom are slightly more than notorious. And Joyce Tarnauer? She’s about as kind and welcoming a mother as an iceberg. An inconsiderate iceberg.
Here’s my problem with this novel: everyone was pretty terrible. The only personality trait the Tarnauers seemed to share came in the form of their selfish, ridiculous behavior. Dawn basically fumbles her way through life, apparently with “doormat” written in lipstick across her face. As with a character in Claire LaZebnik’s The Smart One And the Pretty One, Dawn’s boyfriend is a self-absorbed loser. And the fact that no one else in Dawn’s family can even be bothered to notice that, except the dog, was really upsetting.
And there’s this whole weird plotline where Halley dated Scott Peterson, convicted killer of Laci Peterson and their unborn child, and then becomes involved with a new guy with a sketchy past? And they all live in Los Angeles and celebrities are name-dropped . . . plus, you know, the whole talking-dog issue. As readers, we’re trying to determine whether Dawn has officially had a psychotic break, born of her desire to have someone intelligent with whom to speak, or whether Chuck is actually able to communicate.
After finishing the book, I can tell you that I don’t really know. And I’m not sure I care. I was frustrated by every character in this novel — even Dawn’s would-be suitor, Collin, who seemed like a nice-enough guy. Probably because he was a nice guy, and I wasn’t sure why he would want to stick around Dawn and her endless messes.
What’s funny is that while I was reading Walking In Circles Before Lying Down, I was actually pretty absorbed in the story — though sometimes jolted by the extreme amount of profanity. Markoe has a snarky, fun writing style, and I would probably pick up another of her novels in the future. But not even intelligent, perceptive talking dogs and the hints at philosophy could save this one for me.
2.5 out of 5!