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The Wrong Dog Dream: A True Romance

The Wrong Dog Dream: A True Romance

5.0 1
by Jane Vandenburgh

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The author calls this “a true romance,” saying, it’s the part of her personal history she, being superstitious, was almost afraid to write. She’d grown up accustomed to bad luck, but had – by accident or miracle – survived her own circumstances: being orphaned, her own misspent youth, the chaos of a broken marriage.


The author calls this “a true romance,” saying, it’s the part of her personal history she, being superstitious, was almost afraid to write. She’d grown up accustomed to bad luck, but had – by accident or miracle – survived her own circumstances: being orphaned, her own misspent youth, the chaos of a broken marriage. She’d more than survived, she’d even triumphed and had awakened into a kind of charmed splendor to find herself living in a white marble city with storybook castles, knowing famous people, being invited to the White House to listen to her husband discuss Yeats with the President of the United States, as Bill Clinton drinks Diet Coke from the can.

And into this fabled chapter of the writer’s life comes the perfect dog, an English Springer Spaniel named Whistler who arrives not only the family pet, but as her private symbol of triumph over all that age-old sadness. She wants to ignore it but can’t help but see that their perfect pup is something of a neurotic mess, snarling at manhole covers, barking at children, growling at people in wheelchairs.

The writer herself is not seemingly done with the anxieties born of all that early trauma and loss, and she begins to worry obsessively about losing this difficult dog, the one they so love. Wrrrrnnnggdgggg! she begins to dream. Wrrrrrnnnnng dgggg!

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Filled with anxiety over ending up with the wrong dog, Vandenburgh (Failure to Zigzag) sets up a personal exploration around these fears. After moving from California to Washington, D.C., with her husband, Jack, the two decide that the best remedy for their childless blues is to purchase a purebred English springer spaniel named Whistler, but he is a high-strung, overbred kennel club dog and not the mongrelly kind of the author’s childhood. Though this memoir contains moving passages about Vandenburgh’s deceased father and escapes to a forest cabin with her brother and their childhood dog, Doctor Ross, such highlights are overshadowed by repetitive, and occasionally whiny passages about how the author prefers the company of her West Coast friends to the folks in her new city. In such moments, Vandenburgh risks coming across as a privileged complainer the moment Whistler lets out a whimper or a growl. Agent: Elise Capron, the Sandra Dijkstra Agency. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

Praise for The Wrong Dog Dream

"And now I love this book, too. Like everything Vandenburgh writes, The Wrong Dog Dream is profound, brilliant, honest, painful, gorgeous, precise and wild, funny and real. She only writes about what matters most: love, family, art, and survival. You don't have to love dogs to enjoy this book, because it is about Life, which is to say, joy, loss, chaos, love, death-- and then those things all over again. It's about her marriage, children, and grandchildren, and their pets; her childhood in a deeply crazy environment, and its pets, her life as an acclaimed artist, her loneliness, salvation in marriage, and pets. This book is about devastation, hope and victory, and it is beautifully written." —Anne Lamott

Kirkus Reviews
Novelist and memoirist Vandenburgh (Architecture of the Novel, 2010, etc.) tells the story of her relationships with two family dogs while exploring her own inner emotional landscapes. Whistler came into the author's uprooted life after she and her husband moved to Washington, D.C., from California. But the English springer spaniel soon went from being "two warm and fluffy handfuls of the purest joy" to "a fearful mass of jitters." Vandenburgh attributed the nervousness to his pedigreed background, until she realized that he may have been picking up and mirroring her own anxieties. Living apart from all she had known, including her own teenage children, she felt fearful, lonely and as though "[she'd] lost some element in [her] sense of cosmic usefulness." The author began seeing a therapist and then took Whistler to a trainer to help him overcome his problems. "Thousands of dollars" later, her dog evolved into an excellent companion upon whom she and her husband doted. When Whistler died tragically, the grief-stricken couple immediately adopted a puppy from an animal shelter and named him Thiebaud. From the start, this new dog seemed to revel in the simple joy of being alive. Vandenburgh and her husband eventually moved back to California, where Thiebaud shattered their fragile, hard-won peace by unexpectedly attacking another dog and plunging the family into conflict with the town's residents. Vandenburgh's work is strongest in its depiction of the sometimes-intense, life-changing bonds that can form between humans and dogs. A lack of sustained reflection on the author's internal conflicts, however, undermines the narrative's impact on readers. Sincere and at times even lyrical, but not especially compelling.

Product Details

Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Jane Vandenburgh is the award-winning author of two novels, Failure to Zigzag and The Physics of Sunset, as well as Architecture of the Novel, A Writer’s Handbook and The Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century, A Memoir. She has taught writing and literature at U. C. Davis, the George Washington University, and, most recently, at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Callfornia. A native of Berkeley, she has returned to live with her family in the West, and with Wayne Thiebaud, her new dog.

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The Wrong Dog Dream: A True Romance 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Wrong Dog Dream is a book for all who have loved and lost a dog and lived to love another. That said, it is anything but a sentimental dog book. Jane Vandenburgh is a wildly original, big-hearted and darkly humorous writer who doesn’t need to stoop to the sentimental when relating her life shared with dogs. It’s not just the keen observations regarding her pure bred English springer spaniel Whistler (a “well thought out and intentional animal”), and the less intentional but equally adored porch hound Thiebaud, but her wise and witty survey of the human scene, from PLU—People Like Us, to deeper family concerns. Her endearing, brilliant take on blended family relations is offered in the chapter titled The One Cake Rule.  Vandenburgh’s delightfully circuitous thinking can at times be like holding a leash attached to a rambunctious, curious creature taking in all she finds along a fast-paced walk as she tells of her life in Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area. Along the gracefully winding path she brings us to surprising truths, including her belief that a dog’s pure, uncomplicated love is possibly the truest love a human can experience. And as with any good memoir, the author delivers us to powerful understandings about herself which she could not have arrived at without the company of her beloved canines. As for the book’s many entertaining asides, I found she and her husband Jack’s brief residency in a high rise in the instant community of Emeryville to be so acutely whacky, she might want to consider it a setting for her next novel.  Readers of The Wrong Dog Dream will be thankful Ms. Vandenburgh has gone so willingly, and winningly, to the dogs.