REVIEW: Dog Days by Elsa Watson
Dear Ms. Watson,
Fantasy and paranormal books aren’t usually my thing but after reading another good one earlier this month, I decided that since I was on a (mini) roll, I’d try yours as well. I don’t think a reader has to be a dog lover to enjoy “Dog Days” but it doesn’t hurt given that half of the story is told from the point of view of Zoe, a white German Shepherd.
Part of the blurb made me pause at first. Jessica co-owns a cafe in a dog crazy town that throws an annual celebration of canines and somehow she’s become known, and disliked, as a dog hater here which could be enough to doom her cafe? Really? A town that would hate someone that much for disliking dogs? Then I stopped and realized that I was questioning that instead of whether or not I’d read a book about human Jessica and dog Zoe swapping bodies. At this point I got a grip, laughed at myself a little and started reading.
There’s more before the body zinging than I expected but it serves as a backdrop for the setting and introduces several major and minor characters. There’s Jessica, a young woman desperate to keep her Glimmerglass Cafe open who has had some bad experience with dogs in her past though she doesn’t remember it. Yet it’s enough to cause her to wig out when around them which is a problem in a town that really has gone to the dogs. Jessica sighs over hotie vet Max Nakamura but doesn’t have the self confidence to go after him and dreads that someone will fill him in on her “dog hating” past. Meanwhile Zoe wanders lost and alone desperately searching for her people. When Jessica and Zoe met up, as an animal control officer is trying to capture Zoe, it’s fate and the beginning of their strange adventure.
A zap of lightning to cause the soul switch works for me as well as any device you could have picked and the results are amusing as the two females awake and start coping with their new existence. This is where I think the book excels. Who could know what it would really be like to suddenly inhabit a dog’s body? Or vice versa. There’s a whole new body type to get used to moving and moving around in. Fingers instead of paws, two feet instead of four, and how do humans learn what’s going on without a nose that can inhale a scent, wrap it around olfactory nerves and detect a myriad of amazing things from it? But the colors! So many of those that can now be seen and then there’s the ability to get food whenever you want. But why do people get so upset when you drink from the toilet and what’s with changing clothes every day? Still Zoe discovers that having hands doesn’t help decipher the appropriate response people want when they talk to her and not everything can be solved with wrestling and dominance games.
For Jessica becoming a dog opens another world of senses. She feels she can soar when she leaps and running becomes pure joy. Chasing squirrels and licking cats is almost irresistible until she remembers that she has a ton of things she’s supposed to help get done this weekend to try and salvage her business yet no hands or vocal chords with which to do them. Barking and grabbing at things with her teeth will only get her so far. She’s also got to keep Zoe from doing things which are fine for a dog but which will get her arrested in human form. Still, watching Zoe’s zest for life gets Jessica to thinking about how dogs see the world. Theirs is the pure joy of living in the moment and experiencing the happiness of here and now.
Your decision to have Zoe’s viewpoint told in first person present tense vs Jessica’s first person third tense makes perfect sense. I was puzzled about one or two things though. Zoe discovers that she can talk, and does so, as well as read – to some extent. But I was hoping that Jessica would be able to understand woofs and barks plus be able to communicate with other dogs though this never happened. The way Jessica “tells” Max what’s happened is inventive and I can’t blame him for grabbing the chance to quiz Zoe about how dogs view vets, exams and life in general. I was also hoping for more background about Max and admit to being puzzled that you give him a Japanese last name but mentioned his “Native American” cheekbones.
One thing that did bother me a bit was the way the exposition was handled. Since the book is told in first person (first dog?) and over a short period of time, a lot of information has to be compressed and conveyed to the reader. Most of this is done in long passages by Jessica telling the reader but the information that she has to learn from others is mainly presented via the people in question sitting and pouring out their thoughts and feelings to Jessica when she’s in the form of Zoe. The first time or two it’s okay but after a while, it just seems a little odd that so many people tell the same dog their innermost feelings, wishes and desires. I realize that there probably wasn’t a better way to do it but it did get old.
Still, this is a book I wound up enjoying a lot more than I thought I would when I started it. Years ago I read a book in which a woman somehow ended up in a dog’s body and from what I vaguely recall, little effort went into how her view of the world changed. “Dog Days” gives a much better interpretation of what it could be like to experience life as another species. Zoe and Jessica, both rejected by family, have to learn to trust again which by the end of the story, I think they have. The last little bit of this story leads me to believe that there will be a sequel in store which opens up all kinds of possibilities given what Jessica and Zoe experienced before their switch back. It’s a story I’m looking forward to diving into. B-