Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review: "My Dog Tulip" by J.R. Ackerley

I originally learned about My Dog Tulip when a film with this title was released and reviewed by Roger Ebert on his 2011 show, Ebert Presents At The Movies. It was only during the last few months that I learned that this was originally a novel written by author J.R. Ackerley. Ackerley had a relatively established career when he wrote this book toward the end of his career and was one of the few individuals during his time that was openly gay. This was a huge reason why this real life account featured a major detail change: changing his Alsatian (which we know today as a German Shepherd) from Queenie in real life to Tulip in this piece. In this review, to keep things clear, we are going to refer to his dog as "Tulip," because that is how she is referred in the book. I would expect that Ackerley would have a lot to say about his sixteen-year relationship with Tulip and that this piece would concentrate on Ackerley's direct connection to his canine companion. Unfortunately, he is unable to make this connection that I was looking for between the two. When I was looking for chemistry, I ended up getting an account on how Tulip was more of a burden than she was a blessing. Sure, Ackerley says how she was a difference maker in his life, but I never got this kind of satisfaction after reading.

Ackerley adopted Tulip from a family that did not find her the right fit for them. For him, he was her everything. This was evident in doctor appointments with which she would be immensely aggressive to the point that the most notable veterinarian, Miss Canvey, demanded that Ackerley not be present for checkups and procedures. This was because Tulip held such a demand in protecting her owner that this task became a distraction to herself. When Ackerley was not in the picture, her mind would be cleared and she would be an angel. This was described in the opening chapter, known as "The Two Tulips." From here, we go to "Liquids & Solids," which has to do with Tulip and her practices of going to the bathroom. This section could be quite discomforting for someone not interested in the clear descriptions of Tulip's anus and vaginal glands. Ackerley does, however, provide us with very informative facts with how dogs communicate with their urine as if it is an encrypted message. His witty pieces of information are quite enjoyable, but not enough to make a statement with this work.

Much of this account concentrates on Tulip's sex life or lack thereof. It took several attempts to find the right mate for her until things finally worked out and she was able to produce a litter. While he was very diligent with his facts regarding the time with which a season lasts for a dog, as well as the length of her pregnancy, concentrating on her connection to the pups does create a stray from their relationship. It is clear she has a connection to him, but he continuously brushes her off in favor of what he wants out of her. This particular litter of eight would be the only litter she produced and the pups would find different homes and endure different situations.

Ackerley describes how Tulip was a delight to several guests that she came across as years progressed, yet her affection toward him proved to be a heavy burden. I really did not like this from a voice that was unable to return the affection that she gave in heavy amounts. Perhaps this has something to say about a canine's nature versus that of a human? The analogy of a couple would have to be brought off of the table, because this would be like comparing a loving wife to a husband that does not feel the same. This would not be a romantic relationship either, due to Ackerley's preferences. The ending was very much rushed to the point that Tulip's emergency hysterectomy was the most important detail that we needed to be left off with. Not the way with which a connection was made or why Tulip was so special to him, but the fact her sex life was officially over.

I expected something to come out of what could have been a heartwarming tale between a man and his best friend. From what I read, Ackerley was concerned about other things besides his lovable companion, when all she wanted to do was provide him with the unconditional love a dog is meant to provide to her owner. What came off as being his burden ends up creating a strain between what the reader expected and what the reader got. This creates a question in our mind contemplating whether or not we picked up the right work or what we picked up was in fact a lemon. This novel was, in fact, a lemon! Ackerley's wit makes this a fathomable piece, but not enough to encourage anybody to pay attention to. The information that he provides can be found through Google, so there is no reason for anyone to pick up this work.

Verdict: 3/10

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