We lost Piper today to a neurological condition that seemed to rapidly take her bright and wonderful personality from her, and from us.
We got Piper from the Fairbanks Animal Shelter in December 2002. I wasn’t too sure I was ready to adopt a new dog, but when they let her into the visiting room, she immediately came up to us and won us over with her charm. She was a beautiful orange and white husky mix with bright blue eyes, a barrel chest, and quick, graceful movements like a fox. She loved sprint mushing with Andrea, was great with kids, and always knew for sure that she was the cutest dog in any pack. She came with us wherever we went, and even slept on a bed in Andrea’s office when she worked at the Alaska Bird Observatory. As she got older, I started taking her for walks on the trails with Nika, and she enjoyed bounding through the forest exploring and chasing snowshoe hares.
Last winter she almost died from an abscess in her chest cavity, and even though she was eventually cured, she never really got all her strength back. But the neurological issue that finally claimed her life was the hardest to deal with because it seemed to drain the happiness and personality from her seemingly healthy body. Despite that, I’m not going to let this disturb my memories of what a great little dog she was. Always a wagging tail, willingess to “Ooooh” on command, and to cheer you up with her infectiously happy behavior.
I could use some of that cheer right now.
Another Tournament of Books pick, The Devil All the Time meets the last book I read (Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending) in the first round. They are such totally different books that I wonder how judge Emma Straub can possibly decide between the two. Devil is about hard lives and evil, taking place on the other side of the tracks in towns in Ohio and West Virginia. There aren’t any characters in the book that you’d want to meet, and if you did, you’d either need to be carrying a firearm to survive the encounter, or would want a shower after the experience. One reviewer commented that reading this book was like “wrestling a grizzly.” I know someone that has actually done that (not her choice), and I doubt if she would equate the two.
In many ways, it reminded me of Stephen King’s 11/22/63, except without the hero protagonist trying to make the world a better place by murdering Oswald. The brutality and poverty also recalled Matthiessen’s fantastic Shadow Country.
It’s an excellent book, if you can handle it. It isn’t one of my picks to win the tournament, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if it did. How it fares against Ending in round one probably depends on how much the judge hated the ending of Barnes’s book compared with feeling beaten down by Devil. I think I’d pick Devil, but it’s close.
In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, destroying the levees designed to protect the city, flooding 80% of it, and killing 1,464 people. City of Refuge, written by the author of Why New Orleans Matters and a resident of the city, is a fictional retelling of the disaster and it’s aftermath. It’s an emotional story, well written, and does a good job of making New Orleans and the devastation of Katrina real. Read next to Dave Egger’s Zeitoun, it’s hard to imagine how the maintenance of the levees, emergency response, and relief efforts could have been worse. Thankfully, book mostly stays clear from making political arguments or assigning blame, focusing mainly on how two different families cope with the destruction of the city they lived in.
I enjoyed it—learning more about the disaster and the rhythms and flavor of the city itself—but I wouldn’t recommend it except for readers interested in another perspective on Katrina.
After my disappointment that Skippy Dies was eliminated from The Morning News Tournament of Books, I decided I should read the book that beat it, and which eventually won in the final round by a one-vote margin, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, just out in paperback. After beating Skippy, Goon Squad was beaten by Franzen’s heavyweight, but came back in the zombie round and eventually met Freedom (again) in the finals.
Some of the comments from judges choosing Goon Squad:
- Sarah Manguso: Franzen made me weep for lost love, but Egan reminded me that death is coming.
- Jennifer Weiner: Egan gets my vote, because if Franzen takes the prize, then the terrorists win (and because even if he doesn’t, you know the Los Angeles Times will run his picture anyhow).
- Anthony Doerr: Which of these two books might help, to borrow Zadie’s Smith’s clause, “shake the novel out of its present complacency?” Egan’s.
- Michele Filgate: There’s no comparison. Egan’s novel is innovative and playful, while simultaneously smart and captivating.
- Andrew Womack: For me, this decision comes down to pacing, and Franzen is the Pink Floyd to Egan’s Sex Pistols; by the end of Freedom I couldn’t take another meandering guitar solo, while I was dazzled by how much Goon Squad packed into such a compact space.
Jennifer Egan (on hearing she won):
- A rooster will fit perfectly into our Brooklyn landscape…our sons will be thrilled; our two cats, even more so.
I just finished it, and I was blown away. I wasn’t expecting to like it much: a “novel” of connected short stories, ho hum. An entire chapter done using a piece of software implicated in the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster (PowerPoint), yetch. But the way the stories weave through time and from one character’s viewpoint to another, never so obvious as to touch the same scene twice, but covering such a wide swath of time was amazing. For me, it wasn’t until the last chapter, which takes place at some point in the 2020’s, that the collective effective of the stories really came together into a very real feeling for the things we gain and (mostly) lose in our lives; the way our decisions combine to make a life.
The final contest in the Tournament really was a fitting one—both Egan and Franzen are attempting to describe modern life in America (as cliché as that sounds). Franzen does this by filling his book with the full lives of his three main characters. Egan does it by sprinkling her chapters with short bursts from a wide range of related characters, varying perspective, time, age, and narrative style in each. The challenge for Franzen is how to tell the full story of three people without the reader growing sick of them. The challenge for Egan is getting us to actually care about the characters in the short time we spend with them, or at the very least be willing to listen to what they have to say.
She succeeds, spectacularly.
Today is the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to take both Nika and Piper out on the trails. For me, this is a turning point in a very long, stressful illness that Piper is still recovering from.
A couple months ago Piper got what we can only assume was an abscess inside her chest cavity. The result was that her chest filled with fluid and made breathing very difficult for her. The original diagnosis, made before she started having any real symptoms, was cancer, and we were preparing for the worst. Thankfully, Andrea didn’t give up on her, and several fantastic veterinarians in town didn’t either.
She spent some time in a hyperbaric chamber to get her oxygen levels up, and she had the fluids drained from her chest several times. Eventually, she had surgery to insert a pair of tubes into her chest, and we spent the next two weeks flushing her with fluids, every six hours. There’s a photo of the setup below. The procedure was to hook the saline bag to the input port on one side of her chest and put in 250 ml of fluid. Then we’d switch sides, and open the drain port on the side that had just been filled. Repeat until a liter has gone in and come back out again. The whole procedure took more than an hour, four times a day. At the same time, she was getting pain medication and antibiotics.
In the beginning, even after we had a good diagnosis, she was so sick that I don’t think anyone had much hope that she could be saved. She was too weak to stand without help and had a head tilt that seemed to indicate she’d gone septic. But as soon as we got some of the fluid out and the antibiotics started working on the infection inside her she improved dramatically.
Throughout all of it, Piper was fantastic. She went up on the couch to get treatment, went into her kennel at night, and handled all the trips to the vet without complaint or struggle.
She still has to take antibiotics for at least six months to make sure the infection really is gone, and it’s been a cold couple months because her chest was shaved prior to the surgery, but it’s all worth it. Seeing her running around on the trails today with Nika was a pleasure, and I think she enjoyed it too.