“Walking in Circles Before Lying Down” by Merrill Markoe ★★★★

Clever story about Dawn Tarnauer, a twice-divorced Californian who can’t seem to catch a break, either in life or love. She has terrible instincts and judgment about people, stemming from being surrounded by narcissists her whole life. Her sister, Halley, is the same in that she has a strange history of picking the wrong men, including an infamous killer, whom she is sure is being framed.

To know Halley for any length of time was to know that she had a sociopath tracking device where her heart was supposed to be.

Dawn is surrounded by users, including those she should be able to rely on the most. It is full of so many examples of selfish and insensitive behavior by her parents and her sister, among others, that you start to feel the craziness she goes through. There is no dealing with people like this. Resistance is futile.

In the midst of her despair after yet another relationship has ended, she finds herself having one-sided conversations with her dog, Chuck. He is the only being she feels comfortable with. She talks to him and vents her frustrations about life until one day he talks back and tries to convince her to let him help her make better decisions by using the years of instinctive skill he can provide. She’s sure she’s losing her mind but over time just goes with it as she realizes she can hear other dogs as well and can communicate with all of them. The author’s imagination about their thought processes and her vision of their voices and personalities is pretty funny.

There is a running joke throughout the book about how aspiring writers should follow certain rules, including using visual statements that grab the readers’ attention. The joke is well-done as it pops up at perfect moments. That being said, the author followed that rule in a stupendous fashion, as there are certain moments that are so well written–the comic timing and/or imagery produced is really excellent.

It was in the middle of an acid rain of unsolicited advice from Halley that I met my second husband, Jake.

Right behind her was a guy who looked like one of the tousle-haired “Alive with Pleasure” people from the Newport cigarette billboards. He was tall, square-jawed, ready to put on a pair of Dockers and laugh heartily at the innocent pleasures of a sprinkler in summer with his shirtless buds from Abercrombie & Fitch.

(Dad:) “I thought things were going good.”  (Dawn:) “That’s the kiss of death,” I said. “The only way to make love last is to want it over.”

Relationship advice from her Peter Pan rockabilly dad:

“But as you get older, come to find out the best things in life are quick. It took a few decades, but I finally achieved my life’s goal of combining marital bliss with a one-night stand.”

And finally, thoughts from someone she’ll discover is actually good to know and shows promise:

(Dawn:) “Does anybody have a family that functions like a family?” (Friend:) “I think so, but my theory is that the ‘good family people’ hang out with other ‘good family people’. Those of us born into the nutcase class seek representatives of our caste to make us feel normal.”

Truth.

My thoughts are that this is a story that is cute but not cutesy. It is lighthearted and humorous but also has heavier undertones. It links the fictional characters with celebrities famous or infamous that we actually know about in real life in a funny way (even when referencing real-life tragedies). It also covers heavier matters of dealing with toxic people, struggling with depression, and with the unease of being temporarily jobless or homeless. Those darker moments are lightened up with the humor of the conversations with the dogs and hearing them explain why they do some of the things they do, being reminded of the silly antics of puppies and the boundless joy of happy dogs, and the eventual hope that Dawn is finally getting her life on track.

Walking in Circles Before Lying Down by Merrill Markoe

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