Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"Gizelle's Bucket List" by Lauren Fern Watt

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy from the publisher for review consideration. Below is my honest review.

If you know me personally, you probably know New York City was not my favorite place to live while I was in law school. (This probably has something to do with the fact that I spent a lot of time studying and didn't find a ton of time to stray too far from my school.) When I went back for my final semester, I had one buddy who made it remarkably more enjoyable: my scruffy rescue terrier Forrest. Having a dog in the city is a ton more work than having a dog when you have a backyard, but a dog also gets you out into the city in ways and with people you never would have experienced or met otherwise. Forrest and I wandered up and down Morningside Heights, wondering at the incredible variety of food people left lying on the street -- he in awe at his good fortune, myself in disgust. We became regulars at our local dog park & everyone cheered when my timid pup finally made friends with the calmer dogs. Forrest barked with the might of a dog twice his size at the strange delivery guy who showed up (unsolicited) at 11:30pm, and I protected him as best I could from the scary radiator noises that are the bane of many NYC apartments.

Lauren Fern Watt can relate to these types of experiences, and plenty more besides. When she graduated from college, she and her 160-pound mastiff, Gizelle, moved to New York City. It's a city that's not built for much personal space, never mind an extra large pup. They attracted plenty of stares and comments, but found the same sorts of routines and special experiences open only to those who brave the city with a canine companion. Watt tells her story of Gizelle's life in two parts: the first runs from getting to Gizelle as a puppy through settling into NYC. The second half is the inevitability every pet owner knows will come, but never wants to face: finding out your best bud is sick & figuring out how to handle what comes next.

Watt makes the best of Gizelle's remaining time, finding adventures to enjoy together and prioritizing spending time with her. Watt grew up alongside Gizelle, drawing strength from her pet while she learned how to cope with her mother's addictions and to navigate her relationships with friends, boyfriends, and family. I don't know how non-pet-owners will relate to Watt's story, but the many lessons and strengths she learned from Gizelle rang true to my own experience. Watt's prose is light and conversational, and the memoir is an easy, heartfelt read. A warning, though: she does not shy away from the tough ending, and I cried while snuggling Forrest extra close for the last 30 pages.

Verdict: Affirmed. This book may have been an unusually perfect fit for me, but I tore through it in two days. If you're a dog lover and can handle a good cry over a life well lived, you'll appreciate this memoir.

"Gizelle's Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog" by Lauren Fern Watt, published March 7, 2017 by Simon & Schuster.

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