Monday, January 24, 2011

Oogy, by Larry Levin

There was a time in my life, about two years ago, when every time I left the house I saw a loose dog. A bear-like chocolate lab lumbered down the cement divider on 86th Street. An Irish Setter crouched near the fence of my kids' school. A tiny Pappilon veered across Grandview. What could I do, leave those poor animals to fend for themselves on the street? Got to be that at dismissal, when I picked up my kids in car line, they weren't at all surprised when they opened the door of the minivan to find a strange dog nudging his nose out through the crack to greet them. At that point the drill was almost routine: a crazy-slow drive through neighborhoods, searching for addresses and clues. The kids loved it and always jockeyed to snuggle up to the lost dog in the way-back of the van.
It was ludicrous how many lost dogs crossed my path. At its apex it wasn't unusual for me to find four dogs a month, sometimes as many as two in a single week. When I left the house to run errands my new refrain upon returning was guess what kind of dog I saved this time?
There's something about a lost creature's lack of guile that makes it feel rather heroic to return it to safety. Two years ago, when I was closing in on having helped return almost twenty dogs to their owners, the whole shebang felt, well...epic. It felt like there was something cosmic at play. I had the impulse to write it all down.
It didn't take many drafts for me to realize a truism I still stick by: the world does not need another dog story! I'll admit it: I cried when Marley died, but how many times can a story of a dog's unwavering love rescuing a lost soul/marriage/child stay fresh? And so it was with curiosity and slight trepidation that I picked up "Oogy," Larry Levin's story about the puppy who had been used as a bait dog and found near death, only to be adopted and nursed back to health by his family.
The plot may sound trite and cliche -- and that's because it is! If there's a compelling story in "Oogy," just waiting to be teased out, I couldn't find it. From beginning to end, Levin tells a sweet, yet completely predictable and hackneyed story about the trials and tribulations of raising Oogy, a puppy who survived the trauma of his mauling but was left with major deformities. There were the predictable lessons about short-sighted people who were frightened by Oogy's asymmetrical face, who prejudged him as dangerous. There were the tales of how loyal Oogy became, how the people at the vet clinic were heroes, and how Oogy taught Levin and his family how to love unconditionally. I found Levin's language heavy-handed and cliched. And, to add insult to injury, Levin saw fit to includes explanations of ridiculously common situations in his book, such as describing the ins and outs of learning to fasten car seats for his infants, and the reason behind the need for standard dog paraphernalia. Filler. Boring.
Although I'm sure I would have fallen in love with Oogy the dog, I didn't care for "Oogy" the book one bit.
But I'm not done bashing animal-themed books yet. Next up: David Sedaris goes rodent in "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk."

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