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Monday, September 3, 2012

An Italian Dog

Guest Editor: Chris Manganaro While not everyone has a pet, most people would agree that they can do a lot for a person's mental well-being. It does not necessarily matter what kind of animal it is, pet owners always have stories to tell. Some are inspirational, others astounding stories of rescue and then there are those that are just plain funny. Whether or not a person is saved, a pet still has a permanent affect on their lives. In Justine van der Leun's memoir Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Girl about Love, we are given the story of Justine's life with and without the titular dog. It is important to note for those interested in the book that the dog, while important to the story, is not the main focus. In fact, it may disappoint some readers to find Marcus absent from so many of the book's pages. In many ways, it is disappointing because Justine does such a wonderful job of describing the way her dog moves and acts. Whether describing the way Marcus walks or grins a doggy smile, the words used are charming and well thought out. This is not to say the rest of the book's writing is lacking, but it does have a bit less sparkle than when Marcus is involved. This missing bright side is mostly due to the fact that the author can be quite negative at times. During the point in her life that the novel covers, she is a conflicted woman who is not sure what it is that she wants in life. She presents herself in an unflattering way, wholly realizing that she may not be likable to all readers. She does many things that might make you cringe or frown in disapproval. The saving grace is that she at least admits to making irrational decisions and being selfish and naive without defending herself. This of course means that she also has a negative outlook on other parts of life which effects the people and places around her. This is not quite your usual type of travelogue with the world being all rainbows and sunshine, but rather there is quite a bit of mud to wade through. This may be a bit much for some readers. What keeps the book from being too heavy is Justine's sense of humor. It may not hit everyone's funny bone, but some of the stories she relates are very funny. One point in which she talks about the way sheep act is chuckle worthy. It is to her credit that Justine is able to view her situation in a comical way rather than just a morose one. The people that Justine meets, including her boyfriend Emanuele, are described in the same way as herself. They are shown to have flaws because that makes them all the more believable. Characters like Fabio really help to paint a picture of humanity. Overall, the book is at its best when Marcus is involved in some way, but it is not at a complete loss when there is no dog to be seen. The title is a tad misleading, but also entirely truthful. Without Marcus, the book would be lacking the lesson that makes it complete. It is a worthwhile read for those looking for something a little different than the expected.

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