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Tracy Beckerman
Barking at the Moon
Undeterred by her inability to keep a houseplant alive, Tracy Beckerman decides her family just isn’t complete without a dog. But when Riley comes into their lives, they realize they got a lot more than they bargained for. From tracking wet cement through the house to shredding the family’s underwear, Riley is a one-dog wrecking ball. Add in the challenge of trying to housebreak a dog in a hurricane and you have a recipe for chaos. But Riley also brings something else into the family. A sweet, goofy, and insanely loveable dog, he brings joy, laughter, and a renewed sense of wonder into the household. He teaches the Beckermans that above all, life should be celebrated, family should be treasured, and dog fur in your food is a small price to pay for having a dog in your life.
Beckerman’s brief, charming memoir shares the story of Riley, a Flat-Coated Retriever and “one-dog wrecking ball,” and his impact on the family of Beckerman, creator of the syndicated humor column Lost in Suburbia. The story opens with Beckerman taking a plunge familiar to many suburban families: getting a puppy. Riley, nicknamed ‘Mellow Yellow,’ by the breeder, turns out to be anything but mellow. The puppy eats everything–socks, upholstery–and the situation is made even more complicated by the addition of a lizard, chinchilla, and multiple fish named Larry.

Like many mothers, Beckerman is ultimately left to take care of this menagerie, and in this comic and tender account she touchingly considers what it means to have a dog and a family. Any pet lover will recognize the challenges–vet bills, urine where one does not wish there to be urine, fleas, “award-winning gas,” attempts to put a dog on a diet–and also the joys. Nothing of outsize consequence happens in this everyday story–Riley never rescues anyone from a well–and readers not fascinated by pets might wonder if much new is being said here about animal-human bonds, but the affection between the dog and his family is palpable and engaging. Beckerman is a skilled writer who paints a vivid picture of Riley and her family in crisp, memorable sentences and anecdotes that build to well-crafted punchlines.

Her thesis is fairly straightforward: We love our dogs. They love us. Sometimes they drive us crazy. Their journey towards mortality is a faster-paced version of our own. As in some parenting memoirs, moments that seem particularly resonant to the author can at times feel familiar to the reader, though Beckerman elevates the material by writing frankly about the difficult emotions that come with life transitions, such as realizing children eventually will turn to sources other than their parents for comfort. Readers who relish pet memories will be more than satisfied by Beckerman, who pulls off this shaggy dog story with aplomb.

Takeaway: Dog lovers will find laughs and heart in this suburban puppy tale.

Great for fans of: Lauren Fern Watt’s Gizelle’s Bucket List, Julie Klam’s You Had Me at Woof.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A