Finally: a story about animals that won’t leave you in a puddle, heart-broken, swearing off all other animal stories for life.
(I won’t name them here, because including them in this context is truly spoilerific, but you know the stories I’m referring to. We probably cried in all the same places.)
Frauke Scheunemann’s Puppy Love is the antidote: all the parts that you loved in those animal stories (the loyalty, the determination, the courage, the soft fur coats etc.) without the gut-wrenching tragic element.
But, first, you have to be okay with the whole Talking Animal device.
Is it appropriation of voice? Most definitely. But if writers can put themselves into the minds of serial killers and despots, is it that much more of a stretch to inhabit the mind of a creature with four legs instead of two?
Nonetheless, if you’re not a fan of this, you might not connect with Carl-Leopold von Eschersbach, a wirehaired dachshund whose mother had a fling with an unsanctioned suitor (i.e. a non-wirehaired dachshund), which landed him at the shelter.
(It’s a very fancy name, but his family hails from an aristocratic German breed; Puppy Love is translated from the German by Shelley Frisch.)
Despite his questionable heritage, Carl-Leopold is still a puppy and, as such, an appealing candidate for adoption, unlike some of the other shelter animals (this is as sad as this story gets); he is soon adopted by Caroline, who names him Hercules, and the story proper begins.
The plot, however, is of secondary importance; Puppy Love is all about Hercules. Sure, the novel revolves around his attempt to rearrange Caroline’s lovelife, so that she is happier (which, in turn, makes Hercules’ life a happier one as well), but this is a character-driven story.
Hercules, as a young pup, consistently struggling to understand the ways of the two-legged, is also in an excellent position to make observations about human behaviour. He does have an assistant in this endeavor, an older neighbourhood cat named Beck, and their antics and interactions are wholly entertaining.
“Did I mention that Beck once belonged to a lawyer? One very unpleasant upshot of this time is Beck’s need to introduce legal mumbo jumbo when the mood strikes him. It’s tragic how much humans rub off on their animals. I wish it worked the other way round as well. If it did, the world would be a friendlier place.”
But although Hercules credits Beck’s expertise substantially, he has an inherent knack for observation and contemplation as well. (Comes from being doomed to listen more than talk, I suppose.)
For instance: “My knowledge of good breeding in humans tells me that this much self-praise is considered bad form.”
And this spot-on conclusion: “In other words, drinking wine is apparently a synonym for a highly inefficient method of killing an evening for people who can’t be bothered to go for a good run in the park – and most people are like this.”
Many times, only the reader truly understands just how clever (brilliant, superior, etc.) Hercules is. And, many times, for those oblivious two-leggeds, that’s a good thing.
“Grrr, she likes cats better? Maybe I should give her a nip in the heels, then she’ll at least have a good reason to prefer cats.”
Often times, such sentiments remain uncommunicated (or unrecognized at any rate). And, yet, Hercules does manage to overcome the barriers of communication sometimes, at least partially.
“How did you manage to get the phone off the hook? It can’t be too easy for a little guy with such short legs. Too bad you can’t speak.”
Hercules’ continued efforts draw the reader that much closer to his furry sort of love, and the two-leggeds in the novel (well, the “good sort” of two-leggeds) do respond, to the extent of their varied capacities.
One favoured suitor makes considerable strides in crossing the communication barrier, even while acknowledging that not everybody would believe it a worthy endeavor:
“’You think so too, huh?’ He looks around, then laughs. ‘I wonder if anyone’s watching me having a man-to-man talk with a dachshund…and whether you can be put away for that. I bet it looks really weird. So what? We’ll take another spin around the block, then I’ll act on my decision.'”
Now, the concern remains that, with the tragic element removed, a talking-animal story could descend into the predictable, formulaic romance. But Hercules is an unpredictable hero and Puppy Love does not turn all the expected corners.
If some of your best friends have four legs rather than two, you might just find yourself in love with a wirehaired dachshund.
You might find yourself slipping Frauke Scheunemann’s Puppy Love between your copies of Where the Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller, always hoping for happier endings.
Do you think there’s a match to be made between you and Hercules?
Day 17 of 45: Click on the image above to see House of Anansi’s page for this novel and a short trailer for the book (about a minute) with some charming four-legged stars. If more book trailers were like this one, I’d be watching them on replay. This is a new theme: enjoy!