Men and Dogs *** by Katie Crouch
I’m joining Jain with my Edible Book Review at Food for Thought, where “pages from your book magically mix with the kitchen and your camera.”
I really wanted to like this book, but this one was marginal for me. I was totally pulled in by the cover art & title~ water, girl, boat, dogs and praise on the back cover. Also the fact that most of story takes place in Charleston, SC. I even googled before purchasing and found this from People: “Prepare to have your heart broken while laughing out loud at this breathtaking, scathingly sardonic novel.” It was a quick read that I pictured myself enjoying on a boat, at the lake and with my dogs. Instead, I found myself disappointed, with characters I found tiresome and not particularly likeable (except for the one dog remaining in this story and the comic stepfather figure.) I also thought the title of this book was misleading~ possibly an effort to follow in the catchy-title-footsteps of Girls in Trucks, the author’s first novel. Yes, there were men, but the two dogs in this book had minor parts in this story.
Hannah is eleven in the spring of 1985 when her father leaves on an ordinary fishing trip in the Charleston, South Carolina harbor, taking the family dog with him. A shrimp-boat captain finds the dog later, floating alone in the small aluminum boat, anxious and hungry. The boat, near some rocks four miles outside Charleston Harbor, was out of gas~ the engine, still in its lowest gear, with the typical supplies of water, Coke, beer, sunscreen, a net & pole, and unused life vest onboard.
Two decades later, Hannah is thirty-five with a successful business and a dedicated husband, in San Francisco. She’s left Charleston behind, but as a Daddy’s Girl, not the conviction that her father is alive somewhere and simply missing. Her path of self-destruction culminates one night when she finds herself drunkenly climbing up her own fire escape—with as one might guess, disastrous results.
Hannah finds herself returning home to her strong-willed mother, Daisy, and reluctantly greeted by her responsible, older brother Palmer. There, with her marriage, business, and life in shambles, she focuses on trying to piece together what really happened to her father.
Hannah believes her father is alive due to all her unanswered questions about her father’s disappearance:
“For instance, how does one fall off a boat on a calm spring evening? And why did no one see her father in the harbor? And why was he fishing on a Monday at twilight? And if he drowned, why was no body ever found? And finally, why, why was the dog still there?”
Hannah manages to estrange herself from her family with her relentless questions to her mother and stepfather and has only been home four times in almost twenty years, but says of Charleston:
“Who wouldn’t adore the beaches and a local accent so complex it allows a woman to simultaneously seduce and reprimand in one single word?”
The difference between Hannah and her older brother Palmer is obvious in their reactions to the police department’s findings on their dad’s disappearance:
“Palmer saw the police report as a gift. It was terrible, knowing his father was dead. Even now it gives Palmer a bruised feeling to think of it. Still, it was better than the waiting, and at least now the Legares could get on with their lives. But Hannah didn’t want to. Indeed, this is precisely what cause the ever-widening rift between them. Rather than viewing the evidence as the key to a door out of the nightmare of their father’s disappearance, Palmer’s sister saw it as an excuse to remain trapped there.”
Hannah’s stepfather, Will Dewitt is a comic figure who provides some funny moments in this story.
“There is but one word to describe Hannah’s stepfather: ‘loud.’ Loud voice, loud golf shirts and pants, loud stories, loud boiled-crab skin. When he enters a room, Hanna cannot stop herself from picturing a Kool-Aid commercial circa 1986–the large, wobbling pitcher of pink liquid breaking walls and wreaking havoc.”
Hannah, who still faults her mother for remarrying a year after her father’s disappearance has never fully accepted him:
“It would be hard for anyone to fill Buzz Legare’s shoes, but Will DeWitt stretches and soils them with his bunioned, swollen feet.”
DeWitt, from one of the oldest Charleston-society families and Hannah’s mother, Daisy, have certain ideas about new-money Charleston and old-money Charleston:
“Will studied period antiques for a few years in Europe and is therefore truly obsessed with keeping the house ‘authentic,’ while Daisy, if not as wealthy as Will, is as Old Charleston enough to have known not to refinish or overdecorate upon her arrival twenty-odd years ago. New curtains here, a velvet pillow there. That was it. Which, in the DeWitts’ opinion, is what separates the new people from decent non-Frogmore-stew-serving locals like themselves. For this reason, the ballroom, though grand, is adorned with tarnished mirrors. The piano in the music room is a bit out of tune.”
So with that for inspiration, I prepared Frogmore Stew, or Low Country Boil. We’ll pretend that it was prepared from leftovers from the boat. . . contrary to what DeWitt and Daisy believe, it is appropriate for an outdoor gathering or party :-) It’s easy to prepare~ a recipe is not really required, buy you can find one from Southern Living here for reference.
Palmer becomes a vet because of Tucker, the dog his father left behind.
“When Buzz disappeared, Tucker became Palmer’s dog. It was not a smooth transition; Tucker was highly distraught by the loss of his owner, and a year of horrible behavior followed, resulting in the destruction of upward of twenty-five shoes. After losing a pair of hand-me-down Ferragamos, Daisy even threatened to put the dog down, but seeing the expression on Palmer’s face, she silenced herself on the subject. Palmer patiently trained Tucker, taking him everywhere he could, including to football games and school.”
“Charleston is a dog town. There are dogs in cars, dogs tied up outside bars, dogs leashed to the legs of strollers. Dogs pace the backs of trucks, dogs surf the bows of boats, dogs roam the beaches, their college-student owners too distracted by beer and skin to notice their animals knocking over small children. No apologies necessary when this happens. In a dog town, the dogs win.”
Palmer’s vet tech/assistant, Jenny, has a tie to Hannah, thru her marriage to Hannah’s former high school boyfriend. Palmer is struggling Jenny’s office crying jags lately:
“She cries on birthdays, when she can’t find her keys, when it’s too cold out. It would be worth firing her over, but fortunately the one thing she doesn’t cry over is animal euthanasia. When it comes to pet killing, she’s a battle-ax.”
“When Palmer announced, at perhaps the most awkward DeWitt-Legare dinner to date, that he was a homosexual, it made her brother more human somehow. For no matter how loudly Daisy and DeWitt might voice their support of Palmer, proclaiming over and over and over– to Palmer, to other DeWitts, to friends at the Boat Club and at dinner parties– that there is nothing wrong with it, Palmer’s being gay finally brought him down to Hannah’s own flawed level.”
Palmer and Tom have Hannah over for dinner. Hannah observes:
“Palmer may not be into women, Hannah muses, but he definitely found Charleston’s best wife.”
Tom serves a Peach Crumble for dessert. I made Ina Garten’s Peach & Blueberry Crumble, recipe here.
“She had followed her instincts, and they had protected her. They still do. She feels almost lucky that she had a father who disappeared when she was eleven, because now, she can always sense when someone is going to take off. This has been an invaluable skill.”
“But things are almost always better anyway when there are fewer words, aren’t they? No words, and you can make what you want from it. Like when you tell someone you love them. If they say nothing, it might mean, I don’t love you. Or, I like you all right. But it could also mean something else. For example, I love you more than I can explain. That’s what Hannah’s always squeezed from it. That’s the nothing she’s listened for.”
“But what Hannah knows now is that she is gloriously and terminally faithful. She is someone who believes, even when others do not. If you’re a dog, that means waiting for days in a boat for your owner to come back out of the ocean. If you’re a woman, it might mean scaling a building to tell your husband you still love him whether he’s ready to hear you or not.”
All in all I wasn’t totally in the drink with this book. I got my patient husband/boat captain to help me find lake dogs willing to pose for a photo. I also got reacquainted with Frogmore Stew~ remembering how quick, satisfying, and what an easy clean-up it is for a party~ along with a new recipe that I can vary with different fruit this summer. I have read a lot of good books lately. Reading something that is average, only makes your 4 & 5 star books more exceptional by comparison.