The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs
by Nick Trout
So it turns out the author of this book is a real vet. And it reads like it.
I don’t mean to be too critical: this was a sweet book, with a genuinely happy ending; I was rooting for several of the characters – hoping for rewards for some, and comeuppance for the others – and pretty much everybody got just what they deserved. And, not to spoil anything, but there is no terribly sad animal death, as there is in nearly every other book about pets, from Where the Red Fern Grows to Marley and Me. It was lovely to read about animals who come into a vet’s office not feeling well, and then leave feeling better. It made me smile, and if that would make you smile, the book is worth reading.
But the hero, Dr. Cyrus Mills, is just such a weenie. There are reasons for it, and he deals with them and improves; but it takes him so long to dig his way out of his weenie-ness that first the book feels annoying, and then a little unrealistic, because how could a guy who’s that deep in the ween-pit finally turn it around that quickly? And while not all of the small-town Vermont characters were obnoxious, there were several who were, and when the hero-weenie can’t deal with them beyond getting tongue-tied and scratching at the back of his head, which is quite literally how every conversation ends for the first half of the book, it makes you want to crawl into the book and start punching. Which is less sweet than the feeling you get from cured animals.
Mills is not a people-person: I get that. I’m an introvert myself, and I don’t handle confrontation well, either; but the trouble is, he’s not even good at not being a people-person. Mills is a veterinary pathologist by trade who finds himself in a small-town vet practice, trying for the first time to deal with actual living pets and their owners, rather than slides of tissue and the remains of deceased pets in a quiet, sterile lab. He is cold and clinical and tends to hide in scientific jargon. All of that makes sense. But he is also tender-hearted: being around the animals is almost instantly emotional for him, breaking through his shell; this is what makes him tongue-tied, because he is aware that he is cold and harsh-seeming, and he tries to change that for the sake of communicating successfully with the pets’ owners. I don’t buy that. If he has spent fifteen years in a basement lab with dead things, and liked it enough to do anything he can to get back to it (which is the basic conflict in the plot), then he would be indifferent to the feelings of the humans who come to see him, and probably of the animals, too. Sure, the sweet puppy faces might break through that hard exterior, but it wouldn’t happen with the first one. If, on the other hand, he’s a big softie who loves the animals – a position I fully support – how could he have been happy sitting in his basement lab for fifteen years, never even owning a pet?
All the reader is left with is the determination that this guy is a weenie who either doesn’t know what he really wants, or doesn’t have even a little of the gumption needed to go out and get it. By the end of the book, he sorts this out – but I disliked him enough in the beginning to not really care that he wins by the end. I was happy that his victory works out well for a lot of other people in the book, who I actually liked better than Cyrus himself.
Especially Frieda Fuzzypaws.
Overall, it’s not a bad book. There are probably better.