‘At regular intervals, we would all break out in loud barking, for no reason other than the sheer joy of it.’

To Everything There Is A Purpose

A provocative, poignant, canine-centric debut novel, W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel For Humans explores existential issues and gives us pause (not “paws”!)

logoBy Duncan Strauss
Host, ‘Talking Animals,’ at NPR affiliate station WMNF-FM, Tampa, Florida; online at www.talkinganimals.net

Experts in the animal welfare realm typically caution people against anthropomorphizing animals, suggesting that doing so invites muddled, sometimes deeply problematic, decisions when tackling everything from shaping wildlife legislation, to training the puppy that just joined your household. Fair enough.

At the same time, the towering, decades-old franchise of Disney animated flicks—and, more recently the Pixar phenomenon—has been chiefly constructed atop the foundation of fauna talking and otherwise behaving like human beings.

Television? Much the same.  Hell, who amongst us, of various vintages, hasn’t reaped hours of amused entertainment from watching the adventures of, say, a Groucho Marx-like rabbit, an endlessly optimistic sea sponge, or—less cartoon-y—a palomino who wears glasses, places phone calls and generally makes mischief, when not chatting with the architect who shares his barn?

Books, by which we mean grown-up literature as opposed to kids’ books, tend to be a different animal, as it were. Oh, sure, there’s almost a sub-genre of novels that’s cropped up prominently featuring animals, which, at one point or another in the story, exhibit human-like characteristics, up through and including gabbing.

dogsBut far more rare is the novel written by an animal, nominally the case with A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel For Humans (Tor/Forge). Now, technically, the author is W. Bruce Cameron, the award-winning humor columnist and bestselling author of 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter and other books.

Cameron’s debut novel, Purpose is a singular saga about—and ostensibly told by—a charismatic canine on a quest to understand his purpose over the arc of being reborn as various dogs in various settings. (Disclosure: In one of my own previous lives, I was a talent manager who represented Cameron’s fiancée—I was offered the opportunity to read the book several months ago, loved it, and provided a blurb for the jacket.)

The storytelling approach is at once episodic and seamless, and manages to subtly highlight the importance of spaying and neutering throughout the book, while inventively illuminating important other animal issues with equal understatement by placing the dog, with each rebirth, into those diverse settings.

For instance, our narrating pooch starts out feral, later lands in a small puppy mill, spends some time living with a hoarder—and is adopted from a shelter by a family, launching a classic boy-and-his dog love story that reverberates through the final page.

Similarly, our canine protagonist continually examines his purpose throughout this journey, arriving at different, more evolved, answers at each step of the way, influenced by what he is doing, where he is living, and with whom. This ain’t exactly the memoirs of Triumph.

cameronIndeed, Purpose explores a number of existential issues, not least, of course, reincarnation, while for many readers, it will constitute a sizable metaphor for the way we human types ponder our lives and our lot in life (what’s it all about, Alfie? etc.), and how those assessments evolve and mutate as we pass through different phases of life, and different relationships.

Profound as Purpose is in the Rorschach-ian way that expertly crafted, highly textured yarns reward readers commensurate with what experience and sensibility they bring to the proverbial table, this book is also a remarkably fun, fast read, with more than a few delightful reminders that a dog is tapping out the story: “At regular intervals,” he writes early on, when he’s Toby, “we would all break out in loud barking, for no reason other than the sheer joy of it.” (So that’s why they do it!)

In re-reading A Dog’s Purpose recently in preparation for interviewing Cameron, I realized it achieves a rare duality: It can function as a terrific Summer book—breezy page-turner, ideal for the beach or poolside—yet it's also unmistakably a supremely meaningful work that's rich, provocative and poignant.

For a dog, that’s some damn good writing.


Listen to Duncan Strauss’s interview with Bruce Cameron at the Talking Animals website

W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024