Saturday, July 26, 2014

Recommended Reading: The Book Of Barkley

The finest writer that I know is my friend (actually my sister-from-another-mother) Brigid.  Her's is a quite unusual talent which can not just touch your soul but which can make you think, all at the same time.  The simultaneous fusion of both right brain and left brain action is why she's a daily read for me.  Sui generis, indeed.

Her book of stories about her late, faithful companion Barkley is now out.  It's a cycle of life, one that starts at the beginning, with puppy Barkley's lonely evening in a strange and different place:

The power was off all night, but we were OK. I cooked burgers out on the barbecue, and with a breeze blowing off one of the Great Lakes, we were reasonably cool, even those of us wearing fur coats.

With the house in darkness but for a camping lantern and candles, and good ventilation from outside, I just decided to go to bed early. I put him in his crate, all fixed up with a soft shirt inside that I'd worn so it would smell familiar, and I climbed into bed. The window was cracked open; the only sound was the soft silver tinkle of glasses, as the neighbors cleaned up from their impromptu cookout in the shared drive. A flash of faded light broke the space between us, not the power coming back on, just someone's headlights, and he stirred with a gentle cry.

There was no ignoring that sound, a plaintive little cry of loneliness, the anguish of a helpless creature who doesn't understand what he so terribly misses. He'd never slept in a crate, always with his Mom and brothers and sisters.

I wasn't sure exactly what to do; it had been a long, long while since I was around a puppy, and I wasn't sure exactly what he needed. Food, water, go outside? What is it when we grapple with our pet’s innate needs and we perceive how congruent and consistent they are, those canine companions with which we share a future, a home, and all the stars above it. They just want to be safe and be loved, no different from us.

I got up, opened his crate and picked him up. I lay down on the sofa, Barkley on my chest, nuzzled up to something making him think "well, these don't come with food, but they are soft" and went contentedly to sleep.
And ends, well, at the end, with Brigid's lonely evening in a strange and different psychological place:

But those first few weeks, there were no dreams. Last night, alone while my husband was on the road, one finally came.  In my dream, I got up from sleep, wandered out into the hall and there he was, standing there in the bright morning light.  I knew I was dreaming, and I also knew he was gone from this world, I stared at what, to me in my slumbering musings was a ghost Barkley.
I felt tears well up, then I noticed that look on his face, a look of guilt and somewhat pride, an, "Oh No, look what I just did!”  and "Wow, that's the biggest one yet," all in one expression.
There in the shadowed corners of the room, where the rug was indelibly stained from such earlier occurrences was a big fresh pile of dog vomit.  Ghost Barkley had come back to leave me a little gift.
I woke up, to an empty room and clean floors, laughing as, from outside, the sound of the winged birds of morning began.
But the best part of the book is in the middle.  It's about Barkley, of course, but more importantly it's about life, and love, and loss, and all those things that make us fully human.  Parts of this book have a beauty that is almost painful to read, as they play on those Great Questions: what is it fully to be human, as we would wish to be?  What is it to live the Good Life?  What is it to leave that Good Life?

The Great Questions, of course, do not have answers.  That is not their purpose.  They exist to break us out of our mundane, daily existence, to fuse that left brain challenge that makes us really think with the right brain song that touches us in that part of the soul that tells us who we are.
I've not read many books that do this as well as Brigid's, and I envy those of you who have yet to read this - you have all of the anticipation that I felt when Brigid sent me a review copy.  If you don't enjoy it as much as I did that I'm afraid that we can't be friends anymore.

The Book Of Barkley is available through Amazon.  If you hit that link then you'll also help support this blog.  But even if you don't, get the damned book.


lee n. field said...

"In my dream, I got up from sleep, wandered out into the hall and there he was, standing there in the bright morning light. I knew I was dreaming, and I also knew he was gone from this world,"

I've got 2 dead sons. I've had that dream.

Borepatch said...

lee n. field, I can't imagine what that must be like. I'm so very sorry for your loss.

Home on the Range said...

lee n. field - the words "I'm sorry for your loss" don't do such a loss justice. I do hope you will read the book and if money is tight, just let Borepatch know your address and I will just send you one.

My beloved only brother was dying as Barkley was (another sibling had passed on much earlier) and he left us three weeks after Barkley did, and the book began.

lee n. field said...

I wanted to get this responded to, before it got too stale.

Thanks for the offer. I'm not sure when I'd have time to read.

I didn't mean to stir anything up, just note an obvious and shared effect of grief. Write those dreams down.

Dogs are unusual among animals. At our best, we fit well in each others' worlds. But they don't see or understand eternity.