I like pet memoirs. I read them a lot. Marley and Me, My Dog Skip, you name it, I’ve sobbed over it.
I also like women-finding-themselves memoirs. Like thousands of other women, I flipped raptly through Eat, Pray, Love, planning my own trip to Italy to eat my way to self-discovery.
The two are entirely different beasts, really. While the chick-lit books usually detail the author’s myriad trials in search of the ultimate love with the man of her dreams, most of the well known dog memoirs are penned by guys, love letters to the one great love of their life- their canine.
So when I was sent a copy of Justine van der Leun’s Marcus of Umbria, I was intrigued. Who is this Marcus? Some earthy, olive-skinned Lothario with a burnished chest and a gilded tongue? And why is that dog on the cover?
Turns out, Justine did in fact leave New York for the sun drenched hills of Italy in search of just that: a heart-rending romance. And for a while, she found it. But then, reality hit, and as her affection for her Italian boyfriend waned, he was replaced in her heart by his own dog, Marcus.
I’ll tell you one thing, if an author states in the first few chapters that she desperately doesn’t want a Golden Retriever, that Golden Retrievers represents all that is not what she wants out of life, and I KEEP READING, that alone should tell you this is a book to be reckoned with.
I figured I would like this book, but I really, really liked it. Even people who silently roll their eyes at the whole “Life was nothing until my dog taught me the meaning of it” schtick can pick this book up and enjoy the tale of a fish out of water, an urban expat in a rustic farm town where the Hollywood version of Italy gives way to the hard and dusty reality beneath it. Marcus the pointer is just one component of Justine’s year abroad, an important one, but not the only story to be told.
I love that this is a dog memoir by a young woman instead of a middle aged man, who set out looking for the fairy tale but wound up with a different kind of love. Her characterizations are vivid and sentimental without seeming to be caricatures, even in her descriptions of Marcus. I’ve already loaned my copy out to my co-workers, but I’m adding it to my must-read list for those looking for a unique and heartening summer read.
Eric Goebelbecker says
Just got my copy – starting it tonight. Sounds like I’ll enjoy it.
But I guess I need to rethink my book? 😉
Dr. V says
I’m not sure “intrepid married New Jersey dog trainer in search of love in the hills of Italy” has the same ring. lolol!
Thanks for posting this – sounds like a great read! I am adding to my list.
Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart says
I loved the book too. It had all the dog memoir, chick-lit, travel & foodie elements that I like combined. Plus, Justine is beyond funny and clever and smart … in person, so that makes it even more fun.
Lisa W says
I just read some of her blog the other day (linked from here, as a matter of fact). I’ll definitely add the book to my list.
Granted it’s by a middle-aged white man, but have you read “A Big Little Life” by Dean Koontz? Outstanding. And I challenge you to make your way to the end without serious tears — both happy and sad ones. If you read it, please let me know what you think!
I liked your review of this! I’m definitely adding this to my “to read” list! I’m working on The Story of Edgar Sawtelle right now – not a memoir, but a “dog story” 🙂 Very good about 1/3 of the way in.
Sounds good, i’ll see if i can find it here! to put my two cents in for cat lovers, ‘Under the Paw’ by Tom Cox is a great cat memoir about Tom who lives with his six cats in England.
I couldn’t put down “A Big Little Life” by Dean Koontz! It’s absolutely the best ‘pet memoir’ I’ve ever read. Lisa W. is right – plenty of happy and sad tears, but certainly worth all the waterworks.
Guess I’ll add “Marcus of Umbria” to my list of books to read. Thanks for the recommendation!