A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog by Dean Koontz.
My son got me this book awhile back and recently I finally had opportunity to pick it up. Yes, my “To Be Read” stack is a mile high, but Dean Koontz and his Golden Retriever, Trixie have a special place in my heart. This is not only because I’ve read many, many of Koontz’s books, always admired his writing and even used it as a “model” to study for my own, but because he is also a fellow dog lover. I’ve been subscribing to his Useless News newsletter for years, wherein Trixie always made an appearance, usually funny (she was even a ‘writer’ in her own right, with a few articles in the News and several published books to her name), and through that I came to “know” her.
In fact it was in an issue of Useless News that I learned she had died, about a year after we’d had to put Bear down, so when I got the book, I didn’t know if I wanted to read the story — knowing how it ended — until I had a bit more distance from our own event. In fact, as a kid I used to check the ending of all books that featured a dog to make sure the dog didn’t die. If it did, I wouldn’t read the book. (Which is why I’ve never finished Swiss Family Robinson and why I’ve never read Where the Red Fern Grows or watched the movie based on it (that one made doubly onerous not only in that the dog dies, but that the dog is a Redbone Coonhound!).
Anyway, I finally had an open spot in my reading list, felt as if I was ready to tackle going through that and picked it up, thinking I’d only read a chapter.
In fact, I did manage to read it with a bit of control through the first chapter or so (at the Y, while riding the stationary bike, as I recall). But it wasn’t long before I was hooked and put in one of my all day reading jags. I think I finished it maybe two or three days after I started it, though I read the bulk that last day.
Oh my. What a wonderful book! I LOVED it in so many ways. Yes, the end with Trixie’s death was horrendous — way worse than Bear’s. I bawled outright — for quite some time. I even had to go demand a hug from Quigley, which he gave reluctantly. (He doesn’t come over to comfort you when you’re upset like Bear used to. In fact, he even pulled away a little, but relented at last. Admittedly I was acting very weird, as far as he was concerned.)
Anyway, Trixie was indeed a wonderful dog. And I think Koontz is right in his assessment that God used her in his life to pull him back from the dark, increasingly negative path he was following when she arrived. She was a purebred, but an adoptee, having gone through the entire training sessions for being a service dog, only to wash out before she ever went to work when a congenital problem with her elbow surfaced. Since assistance dogs might sometimes have to pull the wheelchair of the person they are assisting — or even bear the weight of the person themselves, they can’t have finicky elbows that might go out at the worst possible moment. Thus she was put up for adoption and Mr. Koontz and his wife got her.
Of course the memoir centers on her, and Koontz does a fantastic job of conveying the wit, the exuberance, the intelligence, the grace — the loving nature — of this wonderful animal. That would have been enough to make the book remarkable, but it also had much else of interest to me in particular as pertains to Koontz’s writing life, his habits, his having to deal with weird fans, what his office is like, how he works. (His wife, Gerda, handles all the finances and he has a close-to-full-time assistant to do the correspondence, answer the phone, deal with publishers, movie people, agents, the above mentioned weird fans, etc.) And yes, he is a workaholic. So is his wife. I knew that he put in 14 hour days before I read this, but now I have a much better idea what that means.
Still, it’s plain he loves what he does. In fact, the only time he’s ever suffered writer’s block was in the weeks following Trixie’s death.
(And now I can no longer take myself to task for not putting in 14 hour days as well, because I do not have an assistant, a finance officer, a cook, a housekeeper, or a gardener. He did not, however, have a dog walker — he and Gerda did that, one going in the morning, the other at night.)
Anyway, I found it all fascinating, funny, learned a lot about his past and present (which gives insight into why he writes what he does) and as I said, just thoroughly enjoyed this book. Koontz is a wonderful writer, personable, entertaining, his writing heartfelt. I think that comes through in all his works, and is part of why I enjoy his novels so much, even though I don’t care for horror novels (or however his novels are categorized — I think they are in a class of their own). In any case, if you like dogs, or are a writer, or want a glimpse of what a fairly humble, best-selling novelist’s life is like, I highly recommend you read A Big Little Life.