In this section I will be writing short blurbs about the books I am currently reading. I won’t give out spoilers because I never read the last page of the book first. If a book is horrible, it won’t be mentioned on the blog. If a book can not be missed, it will be marked as an ESSENTIAL READ. I’ve kept a book journal since 2004 and I’ll also be adding older ESSENTIAL READS to the blog.
I always hesitate when I pick up a book about animals because I know I will be in tears by the end of it. “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” “Marley and Me,” “The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood” — all of these great books hit me in the gut, but I still loved them. Inevitably, the animals in these stories become characters that I don’t ever forget. When our lab mix, Ruby, stares at birds and watches them in the sky we call her Enzo because of his obsession with the crows in the “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” When we have Ruby at a restaurant (very common in San Diego), we never put her leash around the table because we know she will pull a Marley and drag the restaurant table to wherever she wants to go. And Christopher Hogwood made me want to rescue a pig immediately (I will someday).
In “Unsaid,” the tears start on the first page and do not stop until the final page. My husband picked up the book, read the first few pages, and told me not to read it because it was horribly depressing. The book begins, “Every living thing dies. There is no stopping it.” Abramson continually reinforces the brevity of all life. The book includes many things I feel passionate about: the role of animals in our life, work/life balance, marriage, compassion, and the belief that we can make the world a better place with our actions. I finished all 353 pages of the book in two sittings.
The narrator of the book is Helena, a young veterinarian who has just died (that sounds like a horrible way to start a book and not like the best kind of a narrator, but it works in this novel). Helena has left behind a workaholic lawyer husband, a grieving partner at her veterinary practice, an ex-colleague nearing the end of a grant that involves chimpanzees, and a slew of animal companions. All of these characters are at a complete loss after her death and are trying to find a way to carry on. Her husband has no idea how to balance his career and take care of their three dogs, six cats, two horses, and pig. Her veterinary practice partner has experienced multiple terrible losses, and may now lose the vet practice. The ex-colleague is trying to rescue a young chimpanzee, who has the communication skills of a four year old human, from animal testing. And her animal companions are adjusting to a new normal; especially, Skippy, the young rescued schipperke with a heart condition who was never supposed to outlive Helena.
All of these lives intersect and come together to form a cohesive story that explores redemption and communication. I am a firm believer that animals and humans can communicate, just not in the “normal” way. I am 100% positive that Ruby understands at least 100 words, and she knows better than most humans when I am happy, sad, scared, flustered, etc. Abramson writes, “There is a difference between unspoken and unsaid…just because chimpanzees can’t speak does not mean they have nothing to say; the ability to vocalize thoughts is not the same as the ability to acquire and use language.” A good story, and a good life, often have an animal in it. Every single animal has a story. I look forward to exploring that more on this blog.