By Sigrid Nunez
Read March 2020
This rather short (225 pages) book is a number of things. We learn in the first chapter that the narrator has lost to suicide her long-time friend and mentor. Much of the book is sets of reflections on their relationship and her grief. She explores the course of grief following a suicide – disbelief, anger, despair, and unending pain. Another thing the book has is the story of the narrator temporarily housing the friend’s Great Dane dog. The narrator is a cat person and lives in a building that does not allow dogs. She convinces the superintendent of the building that the dog won’t be staying, but she never actually makes any moves to accomplish that. She realizes the dog is undergoing great grief as well. So the dog becomes another friend as they grieve and learn to carry on in the face of their grief.
Intermixed among the narrator’s reflections on grief and discussion of the dog are two other sets of reflections: one about how the narrator views the calling of writing (yes a calling not a chosen profession for profit) and a second about her job as a writing instructor. Her views regarding the calling/profession aspect of writing and the writers in each category are often amazingly blunt. Yet while she seeks to write because that’s what she must do, she also needs to teach to make the rent. And feed the dog.
This is a brilliant piece of writing by an author that has herself remained out of the limelight and says she has sought quiet places to be alone to write. Fortunately her genius has been recognized in this book which was the winner of the National Book Award in 2018. That recognition will likely incite this reader and others to read her previous novels and other works. This reader looks forward to that exploration.