Book Review: Dog Years, a memoir, by Mark Doty

Dog Years

Dog Years: A Memoir
by Mark Doty
Harper Collins
2007 

I confess – I am not much of a dog person.

I am, however, very much of a Mark Doty person. Whatever that guy writes I will gladly read.

And the way Mark Doty writes of his golden retriever Beau and his black retriever Arden in Dog Years makes me want to go right out and adopt 10 dogs. One of every color and size, it doesn’t matter. I want them all.

I adore this book, just like I adore all of Mark Doty’s other books I’ve read. That’s because this isn’t a dog book in the traditional sense. Like Doty’s much-acclaimed memoir Heaven’s Coast (which may be the one book of his I haven’t read…yet), Dog Years is Mark Doty’s memoir chronicling his partner Wally’s passing from AIDS and beginning a new life. It’s about the healing power that Beau – who was adopted as a companion for Wally as he was dying – gave to him during his time of grief – and about how we find strength to look forward in the midst of sorrow.

“Can hope really be in vain, can you be harmed by hope? Obviously, there is hope that amounts to nothing, in terms of the wished-for result, the longed-for cure, the desired aim. But is that hope in vain, is it simply lost? Or can we say that there’s some way it makes a contribution to the soul – as if one had been given some internal version of those steroid shots, a dose of strengthening?

Hope is leaven; it makes things rise without effort. I have moved forward at times without hope, when Wally was sick and dying, and there wasn’t a thing in the world to do but ease his way. Without hope, you hunker down and do what needs to be done in this hour; you do not attend to next week. It is somehow like writing without any expectation or belief that one will ever be read – only worse, since a Dickinson secreting her poems away in private folios sewn by hand expects, at some unknowable time, her treasure to be found, her words to be read. Hopelessness means you do the work at hand without looking for a future.” (pg. 120)