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.