Thursday, June 26, 2008

PACK OF TWO by Caroline Knapp

The Book: Caroline Knapp, PACK OF TWO: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs. The Dial Press trade paperback, 1998 (first printing thus). Good condition; book shows signs of exposure to damp, covers are rubbed at corners.
First read: 2001
Owned since: 2001

No theme to this week's books; I just realized that this incarnation of the blog has only about a month left to run, and I'd better get to the books I want to write about before the calendar runs out. (I know, it's an artificial deadline; if I wanted to extend it, I could. Allow me my small compulsions.)

This book was a gift from Sy, a man who used to bring his dog to an informal Saturday morning dog park in my old neighborhood, a underused playing field behind Fairfax High School. Every so often, LAUSD police would come and roust us out, and they weren't always polite about it; a few careless dog owners wrecked it for everyone.

I see Sy clearly in my mind's eye, but cannot remember his dog's name, or even what his dog looked like. It was an odd community of people -- we were all kind of odd separately, and feuds arose among owners for weird, almost random reasons. One morning, two owners came to blows after a scuffle between their dogs, and everyone took sides. I stopped going after that; Dizzy and I did not need that craziness.

Almost all of us, though, were packs of two. This book is Caroline Knapp's memoir of her own intense bond with her dog, Lucille, as well as a broader study of how people find things in their relationships with dogs that they can't get from their relationships with people. Healthy or unhealthy, it is what it is; dogs become our surrogate partners, siblings, parents, children.

I live alone and work at home, and if not for Dizzy, I'd pass some days without saying anything at all. As it is, I wonder whether Dizzy makes it possible for me to be more of a hermit than I would be without him -- if I didn't have Dizzy, maybe I'd have to be more social. Or maybe I'd never leave my apartment at all, at least in winter.

Knapp's book looks at this phenomenon without flinching or judging. Here is Marjorie, 48:
When she's with a group of people, particularly people she doesn't know well, she has a hard time turning off the voices of self-criticism, the harsh judgments: is she smart enough, is she adequate? Oh, you jerk; you sound like such a jerk: that's the kind of thing she hears in her head, a burden that's blessedly absent when she's at home with a dog.

Caroline Knapp died of lung cancer in 2002, at the age of 42. Obituaries listed her survivors as her husband, Mark Morelli, and her dog, Lucille.


Moira said...

Poignant and intense, just like a relationship with a dog. Thanks for sharing this book. I've never heard of it.

Alas, what will I do when this blog incarnation is over?!

Anonymous said...

Any idea what your next blog will be about?

AnswerGirl said...

Not yet, and my thoughts on the subject are complicated. I may not know by the end of July, and might just surprise everyone (including myself) in September.