By Barbara Falconer Newhall
“I hope you’ll see yourself in this book,” Julie Barton writes in the prologue to her new memoir “Dog Medicine.”
No, I don’t see myself in this book. I don’t have depression, not the major type anyway. My brothers didn’t beat me up as a kid. And I’m not crazy about dogs. But I am crazy about this book.
I bought a copy (two of them actually, an extra for my dog-loving hiking pal) even though the doggie face on the cover – complete with jowls, whiskers and snout – set off alarm bells in my reptilian brain.
That’s where I keep stored sharp memories of an attack by an 80-pound rescue dog that took place in my neighborhood a few years ago. The dog had a wide, pit bull muzzle, and its teeth left a shiny scar on my upper arm. You can’t miss it if I’m wearing short sleeves. There’s another scar on my hip, where his teeth tore into me a second time after he’d knocked me to the pavement.
That scar is located not too far from the site of yet another bloody dog bite inflicted during an attack by of a pair of neighborhood Dobermans a few years earlier.
So, yeah, I’m not keen on dogs. But that doesn’t keep me from enjoying this book and recommending it to you.
If dogs make me nervous, why would I bother to buy and read this book? I bought it because a writer friend wrote it. I read it because it was a good book. A really good book.
“Dog Medicine” begins with Julie’s mental breakdown as a young woman just getting started in the New York publishing industry. A desperate phone call brings her mother to the rescue.
A ride back home to Ohio ensues. And soon Bunker, a golden retriever puppy, arrives on the scene. With that, the story of how a beloved pet helped restore this not-so-fragile-after-all young woman to health gets under way.
My writer friend is a brave woman. She’s written a story that’s ostensibly about a deep friendship with a dog. In fact, it’s the story of mental illness and childhood sibling abuse told from the inside out.
Julie is brave. Even braver is her brother, who apparently abused her regularly, physically and verbally, when they were children. That he has given his consent for their story to be told is a
remarkable act of generosity – to his writer sister, but also to other victims and perpetrators of past sibling abuse, many of whom no doubt suffer in isolation.
Dog lovers will enjoy this book hugely; I was fascinated by its insights into dog psychology and training. Lovers of memoir will appreciate Julie’s skillful retelling of a poignant story.
But the most significant contribution this book makes is perhaps the light it sheds on sibling abuse. We’ve heard about clergy abuse, parental abuse, teacher abuse – but very little about how a brother or sister can wreak havoc on a sibling.
Congratulations, Julie. This book is a winner, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to find readers all over the place. With a little luck, some of them will be dog-phobic folks like me.
“Dog Medicine,” by Julie Barton, Think Piece Publishing, 2015.
If you enjoyed this post you might like “At Point Reyes — Animals Wild and Tame.” Also, “I Can’t Believe I Got in the Water With That 1400-Pound Whale.”