Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pukka: The Pup After Merle

Pukka: The Pup After Merle 

Merle's Door, published in 2007 is one of the books (along with Marley and Me and a few others) which helped create the "dog memoir" trend).  But even a quick look at other entries in the field will show that Ted Kerasote's book about his friendship with Merle is something unique.  Merle, an independent "free thinking" dog who Kerasote picks up on a canoe trip, is one of the most fully drawn, three dimensional canine characters in literature.  He is not a pet, not a even a companion -- he is an equal partner in a friendship between two adults, and the story of his relationship with Kerasote is both life affirming and inevitably heartbreaking.  In addition, Kerasote seasons the book with information about canine history, genealogy, and evolution, leading to fascinating reflections on the special relationship between humans and dogs.  More than one reviewer has said that Merle's Door may be the best book ever written about dogs, and I think it would be very hard to argue the point.

Ted Kerasote's new book, Pukka: The Pup After Merle, is a very different breed.  Where Merle's Door is a book about a friendship, with its inevitable goodbyes, Pukka is a book about beginnings.  And where Merle was the remembrance of a dear friend, Pukka is a collaboration.  The book consists of Kerasote's photographs of his young puppy (as well as the glorious Western landscape) and of Pukka's funny, surprisingly wise commentary.  It is the story of a new relationship told from the point of view of a puppy.  Is it as good as Merle's Door?  Well, anyone who has ever lost a dear canine friend, and begun a partnership with a new puppy, will know that question is impossible to answer.  No matter what you expect, the newcomer always exerts his own personality against all expectations -- and Pukka's funny, curious, intelligent personality is everywhere in this book.  All the challenges of raising a puppy and all the mystery of exploring the world again with a new friend, seen through the eyes of the puppy himself.    The world comes alive again through Pukka. 

(Full disclosure:  I lost my beloved canine friend Roscoe not long after I read Merle's Door and I adopted my new puppy Zeke not long before I read Pukka.  So the experience of Kerasote and his friends resonates strongly with my own.)

Pukka: The Pup After Merle
Pukka: The Pup After Merle
Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog
Merle's Door
Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age
Out There: 
Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt
Blood Ties

Ted Kerasote was kind enough to grant us an interview.

 B&B: To start off, I just want to say that I've been deeply moved by your work.  I read "Merle's Door" before my own dog, Roscoe, was diagnosed with cancer, which is fortunate because I'm not sure I could have read it afterwards.  Its very clear from the book that Merle was an amazing dog.  Do you want to talk a little about him (I'm sure you get this question all the time) and your relationship?  What it meant to you, and how writing to the book fits into that?

TK:  Someone one asked Robert Frost what a poem he had just read meant.  He read the poem through again.  Merle's book says everything I wanted to say about how much I loved him and what he meant to me.  The book was my way of cheating death and getting three more years, every day, of being with Merle, as I recreated him in every detail.

B&B: You book says a lot about the lessons you learned from Merle.  Have there been more lessons to be learned form writing about him, and from the response of people to the book?

TK:  One of the reactions I've gotten from people has been very surprising.  Hundreds of people have written, saying that they loved the book, it made them realize that life was short and that they were in . . . here they say one of the three things:  that they were in the wrong relationship, the wrong job, or the wrong place, and that they needed to change that.  I thought I had written a book about my dog.  I hadn't realized that Merle's lessons had such far-reaching implications.

B&B: I would imagine that animals have always been important in your life.  What kinds of relationships did you have with animals when you were young?  What do you think you learned from them?

TK:  I had two earlier dogs, Jingles, a German Shepherd-Collie-Husky cross, and Tippy, a Beagle-Terrier cross.  Jingles taught me how I wasn't ready to have a dog (I was five); Tippy taught me how much fun dogs have when they run free (she went to college with me and ran free on the rural campus with the other dogs while I was in class).

B&B: Our site is also about books.  Have you always been a reader?  What authors and books have been most influential on you?  What are you reading now?

TK:  I've always been a reader since my very earliest childhood.  Tolstoy, John Fowles, Hemingway, Farley Mowat, Herman Melville, T.S. Eliot, George Orwell all had an influence on me as I was developing as a writer.  Who am I reading now:  Patrick O'Brian, Alexander McCall Smith, Alan Furst, Jodi Picoult, Alexander Dumas, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gilbert, Simon Winchester.

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