Walking in Circles Before Lying Down
WALKING IN CIRCLES BEFORE LYING DOWN is a novel about a woman who loses track of the direction her life should be taking to such an extent that when she can suddenly talk to dogs, she starts wondering if they are offering advice worth taking.
Dawn Tarnauer’s life isn’t exactly a success story. Married twice before she is even out of her twenties, she now has yet another boyfriend. But at least she hasn’t married him. She’s still not sure what she does for a living, or even what she wants. But after her second marriage crumbles, she finds herself moving in with her sister Halley and taking over her job babysitting dogs at a doggy day care center so Halley can use the time to launch her career as an internet certified Life Coach. As a roommate, Halley leaves something to be desired. She not only has many difficult to understand life coaching affirmations and techniques she wishes to practice on Dawn, but a well-documented attraction to sociopaths having once dated Scott Petersen (Yes, that Scott Peterson). Then there’s Dawn and Halley’s narcissitic mother, Joyce; always in search of a grandiose identity. Joyce is currently marketing something called “The Every Holiday Tree” that she developed with her Korean boyfriend Ng and is hoping to sell to Wal-mart. Completing the package is their mostly absentee father, Ted, who models his life (and wardrobe) after his long-dead rock idol Eddie Cochran, and is mourning the end of his brief third marriage by scheduling two dates for the same night.
The one reliable constant in Dawn’s life is her new dog, Chuck, a pit-bull mix she adopted from an animal shelter. When Dawn’s boyfriend surprises her one morning with an announcement that he’s leaving her for someone else, her world begins to unravel. Never having been dumped before, she finds herself sobbing into Chuck’s fur; “Now what am I supposed to do?”
To her shock Chuck replies, “I knew I should have said something sooner. I could smell her on his pants.” He then vows to take over as the new alpha of their pack since he feels that Dawn’s instincts have proven continuously unreliable. Chuck claims he will use his much more reliable centuries-in-the-making canine instincts to help Dawn find better solutions to all of her dilemmas.
And from that point on, Dawn realizes that she can talk to all dogs, (Or is she going crazy?) It soon becomes a case of be careful what you wish for because although the dogs have much to say to Dawn, what they consider good conversational topics aren’t always the kind of thing most of us want to hear. And then there is the dilemma of what to believe. When a dog in her care tells Dawn that she is being abused, Dawn wants to act on this. But should she? How does she know if the conversation she is hearing is real ? What if the actual problem is that Dawn is delusional?
Filled with wit, inventive imagination, and a shrewd understanding of human (and canine) nature, WALKING IN CIRCLES BEFORE LYING DOWN is an unusual story of the search for love and is for anyone who has always longed for a chance to talk with their pets.
Walking in Circles before Lying Down. Merrill Markoe. Aug. 2006. 256p. Random, $22.95.
When her latest boyfriend leaves her for another woman, twice-divorced Angeleno Dawn Tarnauer buries her face in the fur of her mixed-breed canine, Chuck, and cries. The dog, it seems, sensed trouble all along. “I should have said something before,” he laments in a gravelly voice. “Couldn’t you smell her on his pants?” Has Dawn gone nuts, or is her dog actually talking to her? This latest offering from multiple Emmy winner and one-time David Letterman head writer Markoe (It’s My F***ing Birthday, 2002) may be her best yet, delivering the drama, dark humor, and dysfunctional characters that have become the author’s cachet. There’s Halley, Dawn’s dim, cell phone-addicted sister, determined to succeed in her new career as a Life Coach (thanks to the encouragement of her friend, convicted-killer Scott Peterson); their woefully nonmaternal mother, Joyce, inventor of the hokey but potentially very profitable Every Holiday Tree; and Dawn herself, a tall, blonde California beauty who feels more comfortable sharing confidences with mongrels than men. Markoe’s fans will delight in her hilarious doggy dialogue, as when Chuck enlightens his owner on the topic of urination: “There’s two kinds of peeing,” he says. “There’s regular peeing, because you have to pee. And then there’s auxiliary competitive peeing. For acquiring an empire. I’m all about the real estate.” —Allison Block
Dogged advice about romance
Walking in Circles Before Lying Down: A Novel. Merrill Markoe. Villard, $22.95 (256p)
There was a time when Merrill Markoe worried that Stupid Pet Tricks, the goofy segment she created for “Late Night With David Letterman,” would be the sum total of her obituary. Forget her comedy career and the armload of Emmys she won as head writer for the show. People being publicly humiliated by their pets — that would be her defining moment.
Like it or not, with Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, her sweet and funny new novel about a girl and her talking dog, Markoe has added even more paw prints to her bio. Dawn Tarnauer’s adult life could have gotten off to a better start. Her mother’s a narcissist whose latest excuse for ignoring Dawn is a get-rich-quick scheme that has caught Wal-Mart’s interest — the Every Holiday Tree. Dawn’s father, a rockabilly wannabe who left the family when she was 10, is a serial adulterer. He shows up periodically, in need of money, compliments on his fab ’50s wardrobe or safe haven from an angry wife.
Small wonder that Dawn, who has felt invisible most of her life, jumps into two marriages, way too young and way too fast. A crummy boyfriend follows the collapse of marriage No. 2 and — surprise! — he dumps Dawn. She winds up moving to Malibu to share a trailer with her younger sister, Halley, who’s been dating accused wife-killer Scott Peterson.
The book is perfectly fine up to this point, the setup to a nice little romance. You’ve got love and loss and real estate problems, good women acting dumb and dumb men behaving badly. It’s all told with Markoe’s trademark mix of dark humor and quirky vulnerability, and she skillfully steers clear of chick-lit cliché.
But when Dawn, still heartbroken, turns to her pit bull mix, Chuck, for comfort, things really take off. She’s sobbing into his doggie neck that he’s the only living creature who gives a damn about her when Chuck changes their relationship forever.
“Chuck stared at me, his eyes locked to mine. —Come on! You must have at least suspected there was someone else,” he said. “Couldn’t you smell her on his pants?”
“My crying stopped abruptly as I stared down at him. His mouth wasn’t moving. So why did I think he had spoken? Was it the early-morning drinking?”
After that, we’re in prime Markoe territory — small moments with big laughs. The story swings through Los Angeles like a bloodhound chasing down a scent. Halley becomes the most annoying — and successful — life coach in the city. Dawn, however, takes dating tips from her dog. As a result, she finds herself fleeing from a swingers party at the home of a butcher, who, it turns out, Chuck liked because he had access to meat. “He seemed happy,” Chuck says. “He smelled like liver and blood. Seemed like a win-win situation.”
Writing from a dog’s point of view has a distinguished pedigree. Virginia Woolf gave it a whirl with a genteel biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel in Flush. Harlan Ellison’s novella A Boy and His Dog gave the antihero a telepathic canine sidekick to help him survive the aftermath of a nuclear war. Last year, Pam Houston took a break from cowboys and heartbreak with Sight Hound, a wolfhound’s diary of his efforts to get his mistress happily married off before he dies of cancer.
Markoe’s mongrels, by contrast, are just dogs with voices. Chuck and his equally verbal friends don’t want to save the world. They don’t even really want to save Dawn. They like her, sure, and hope she’s happy, but their main concerns are peeing and pooping and tearing up the furniture. They’re earnest and loyal and Zen-like, and they yearn for nothing more than someone who will let them eat their own vomit.
If you’ve ever walked a male dog, you’ll understand Markoe’s emphasis on bathroom habits. Step. Lift. Step. Lift. Sniff. Lift. Lift. What the heck are they up to? Dawn asks Chuck this very question.
“How can you have to pee so often?” I said, as he jumped in the front seat.
“Well, there’s two kinds of peeing,” he said. “There’s regular peeing, because you have to pee. And then there’s auxiliary competitive peeing. For acquiring an empire. I’m all about the real estate.”
After the butcher fiasco, Dawn balks at following any more of Chuck’s advice. His growly reply rings true for lovers of all species.
“So?” he argued. “I think almost everything you want me to do is crazy. The only reason I do half of what I do every day is that it matters to you. Nearly all of it goes against my instincts.”
In the end, Chuck’s instincts win out. He’s a pragmatist whose presence keeps the happy twists with which Markoe ends her slight but funny book from veering into sentimentality. He’s also why, when you’ve read the last page, the next thing you really want to curl up with is a good dog.
—Veronique de Turenne, Los Angeles Times
from People Magazine
Novelist Markoe, who won multiple Emmys as head writer for David Letterman, returns with a quirky fantasy about one woman’s search for romance that’s guaranteed to charm dog lovers. Her protagonist, Dawn, is a “job hopper” in L.A. with a pitbull mix, a dysfunctional family and an ex-husband or two. Her sister, a self professed Life Coach, is attracted to sociopaths, their self absorbed mother is scheming to strike it rich. and her DJ boyfriend Paxton wants to live “off the grid.” The one semi-sane character is Chuck, Dawn’s dog, who not only talks to her but delivers romantic advice. When she’s dumped by Paxton, he tells her, “You must have at least suspected there was someone else. Couldn’t you smell her on his pants?” Through clever dialogue, Markoe deftly weaves doggie instinct into an insightful tale that’s bound to make you laugh out loud.
—People Magazine, August 21, 2006
Only in L.A. would dogs dole out dating advice
“Are there even ‘women who love too much’ anymore?” Dawn Tarnauer wants to know, “Or, since Dr. Phil, are we now all just idiots?”
Dawn, the wry heroine of comedy writer Merrill Markoe’s latest novel, Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, would genuinely like an answer to this query, since it seems particularly relevant to her life, not to mention her sister’s and her mother’s. As a trio, they have an impressively bad track record on dating. Pretty much every man they attract, and are attracted to, proves to be a deadbeat, sociopath, swindler or some combination thereof.
Dawn’s sister Halley is the worst of the three, having dated Scott Peterson. So, naturally, she’s the one who ascends to semi-fame as a “life coach,” offering sage wisdom to others, usually in the form of questions like, “What advice would you give to someone in your situation?”
Did I mention that Markoe’s book is set in Los Angeles?
Indeed, Markoe, who has a hearty contempt for new age thinking, sunsets in Malibu and all other such L.A. fixations, gets all the Hollywood details perfectly right. Halley lives in an extra-large Winnebago that used to be the “Baywatch” makeup trailer; David Hasselhoff’s autograph is on the cupboard over the stove.
Dawn, on the other hand, is borderline homeless, thanks to a series of lost jobs and bad boyfriends. Pretty much the only constant in her life is Chuck, the pit bull she adopts from a shelter in a moment of loneliness. So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise when, one day, as she’s telling Chuck her troubles, he answers her back.
The central irony of the book is that Chuck proves, in many ways, to be a far better life coach than Halley. His one real flaw is that, in picking out men for Dawn to date, his judgment is sometimes clouded by the smell of meat. (In fairness to Chuck, though, while the butcher who turns out to be into swinging and partner-swapping is clearly not great boyfriend material, he is still something of an improvement on Dawn’s usual choices.)
Chuck is smart enough to hate Paxton, the “off the grid” slacker who is just waiting for his big break as an alternative radio DJ, and to adore nerdy nice guy Collin, who proves, of course, to be excellent boyfriend material.
Dawn isn’t sure what to make of the fact that her dog — in fact, all dogs — now seems to be talking to her. But she handles the situation with impressive calm.
“I might have thought it was a communication from God,” she says, “But come on. Would God have bothered to go to the trouble of talking to me just to ask me to throw the ball?”
Markoe, a longtime television writer, has a certain genius for setting up absurd situations and then running with them. She doesn’t focus on how Chuck talks — no lips are moving — but instead on the bizarre dynamic that is created when the structure of a dog/person relationship becomes completely unbalanced. At times, it’s truly unclear who is the “alpha” in Dawn and Chuck’s “pack,” particularly when it seems that Chuck really should be in charge of the decision-making.
The plot of Walking in Circles isn’t terribly complicated but, then, it doesn’t need to be. Dawn’s, Halley’s and their uproariously self-involved mother’s relationship crises are well-executed, as is Dawn’s gradual realization that her life needs to change.
The strength of this book lies in the fact that it manages to be both very funny and also strikingly well-written. Markoe is an enormously talented prose stylist, as evidenced by her postmodern take on those famous California sunrises and sunsets.
“So I sat in the front room,” she writes, in Dawn’s droll voice, “and stared at the bright orange sun rising over the hot pink “Shrimp Chips” sign on the roof of the Korean market across the street. It looked strangely beautiful, like a greeting card from a holiday someone forgot to invent.”
Markoe’s book is proof that a novel doesn’t have to take itself entirely seriously to be well worth reading.
—Debra Pickett, Chicago Sun-Times, email@example.com, August 20, 2006
If dogs conversed, this diary would be talk of the pound
Merrill Markoe’s Walking in Circles Before Lying Down … witty, well written, and sweet. Dawn Tarnauer, twice divorced, works as a dog-sitter in the Hollywood Hills. The humans in her life are a disappointment, to put it mildly. Her sister, Halley, has ended her affair with Scott Peterson (they were sneaking around behind Amber Frey’s back) and, on direct orders from God, has become a life coach. Their narcissistic mother, Joyce, is obsessed with marketing her creation, the Every Holiday Tree — a kind of all-occasion Christmas tree — to Wal-Mart. Their father,Ted, a rockabilly musician, devotes himself to serial marriages and to perfecting his retro-1950s “look.” Dawn’s manipulative boyfriend, Paxton, is a semi-employed disc jockey who fancies himself a rock historian. He also hates dogs, which is a problem because the only thing right in Dawn’s life is Chuck, a pit bull mix as devoted to her as she is to him. When Paxton tells Dawn he wants to “put things on hold for the time being,” Chuck consoles her.
Dawn has always talked to dogs and believed she understood them: “When I offered to take them out for a walk, I could hear them yelling, ‘Yippee!'” — And it’s not just Chuck talking to her. Every dog she meets has something to say. Anyone who has ever put words into a pet’s mouth will be amused, but perhaps not surprised, by the dogs’ views on sex, garbage, fetching tennis balls, toys, and food. (“Food! Food! Food! Food!”) Markoe is pitch-perfect when it comes to channeling dogspeak. Walking in Circles Before Lying Down is a delight.
—by Diane White, The Boston Globe, August 13, 2006
from Urban Dog Magazine
Walking in Circles Before Lying Down. Merrill Markoe. Villard, $22.95
Swentzle arrives in Dawn Tarnauer’s life wearing nothing but his red dog collar and name tag, just as her first marriage is ending. She sweet-talks a Greyhound driver into letting the Newfie-Lab mix on the bus with her and they both high-tail it out of Fresno and back to LA, Malibu to be specific, where she crashes in the fold-down dining nook of her sister Halley’s Winnebago. It’s not just any Winnebago either; formerly the make-up trailer for the original cast of Baywatch, it sits on a fabulous lot overlooking the ocean. Halley is the caretaker. The owner is the Dr Richter, the vet for whom Halley works as a receptionist, and who eventually hires Dawn for his doggie daycare business. You might say things are looking up for Dawn
Swentzle notwithstanding, you would be wrong.
Another bad marriage comes and goes and Dawn has ends up homeless once again, but now her pet-sitting business starts landing her in some pretty cushy digs, such a the mansion of a has-been, might-be-again TV star with a Bouvier named Johnny Depp.
Then along comes Paxton, one of the sleaziest boyfriends to show up on the page in a long time.
You might say things are looking up for Dawn, but again, you would be wrong. This time it’s Swentzle.
This is a wacky, hilarious story, but the moment when Dawn loses Swentlze is one of those moments of truth amid the hilarity, and Merrill Markoe comes out as the dog person she really is. We’ve all been there.
“There was no comfort for me anywhere. I would panic every time I realized he was gone.”
And, as most of us have learned the hard way, when you lose the canine love of your life, another one turns up. Enter Chuck. Exit sleazy Paxton. And Chuck, who watches Dawn collapse in tears, points that this Paxton guy was a two-timer.
The dog talks. At first Dawn doubts her sanity, but Chuck ends up giving her good solid advice. He goes and gets his ball.
“Here, throw this,” he said. “It’ll make you feel a lot better.”
Now Dawn’s life is looking up. The details of men, home, family are not getting any better, in fact they go steadily downhill, but Chuck, Johnny Depp, Brandi the Golden retriever, Margy the Basset Hound — all of them start including Dawn in their daily conversation. And here’s where you know it for sure: Merrill Markoe spends a great deal of her time talking to dogs.
Walking In Circles before Lying Down is a laugh-out-loud, poke-the-stranger-next-to-you-and- read-it-to- him-too kind of book. If dogs talk to you, you should read it. If you think maybe dogs could talk to you (if only they would), you should read it. If they don’t talk to you, you should read it. And if you don’t think dogs have a lot to say, you should definitely read this book!
—by Joanna Rose, Urban Dog Magazine