Monday, June 13, 2011

Katie Up and Down the Hall: The True Story of How One Dog Turned Five Neighbors Into a Family, by Glenn Plaskin--A Review

Hachette Book Group/Center Street, ISBN 9781599953854, September 2010

In 1988, Glenn Plaskin bought a twelve-week-old cocker spaniel puppy, and named her Katie. As a first-time dog owner, he hardly knew where to begin, but a mutual friend introduced him to his neighbors down the hall in his Battery Park City apartment building, Pearl and Arthur. This older couple were life-long dog owners, and their last dog, a cocker spaniel named Brandy, had died two years earlier. Unprepared to get a new dog at this late stage of their lives, Pearl in particular is more than willing to help Glenn learn how to be a dog owner, and provide dog-sitting services.

It's not long before Glenn, Pearl, Arthur, and Katie start to build a bond a good deal closer than friendly neighbors. Arthur and Pearl were never able to have children, and Glenn's family, while close emotionally, is not close geographically. Pearl becomes another grandmother for Glenn, and a vital part of Katie's life, since she can't (usually!) accompany him to the office. Katie is a pampered darling, but a sweet, cooperative dog as well, and the fun grows when, as an indirect result of Glenn's work as a newspaper columnist, Katie starts to get modeling jobs.

And then Glenn's life runs full speed into a brick wall. The paper he works for is sold, and he's among the many let go. With all the other newspaper people on the job market at the same time, he's not having any success finding a new job. While he's still looking, his long-standing back trouble worsens dramatically, leaving him too disabled to work. He's getting physical therapy and attending a support group at a local community center--and Katie, accompanying him to the center, expands his family once again. She starts playing with six-year-old Ryan, and Glenn forms a friendship with Ryan's single dad, John. Coincidentally, John wants to move to someplace that will give him a less stressful and demanding commute, and an apartment becomes available in Glenn's building, on the same hall. Pearl becomes a friend and confidant to John and a grandmother to Ryan, and the three households bind together. They're in and out of each other's apartments, having "family" dinners together on a regular basis, and celebrating birthdays together. When Glenn is recovered enough to work again, he gets a job with Family Circle, and one of his feature articles is "Grandma Down the Hall," about the family they've created together.

It isn't all high spirits and fun. They're in the residential building closest to the Twin Towers. They live through the terror of realizing what's happened, fleeing the expanding debris cloud, and slowly rebuilding their lives and waiting out the time until they can return to their apartments. Also, Pearl and Arthur are in their late seventies when we meet them, and Katie is a dog, so in one sense the ending is no surprise. Glenn Plaskin makes Katie and his human neighbors come alive on the page, though, and while the ending is natural and inevitable, it's also deeply moving. Honestly, I cried through most of the last two chapters.

This is not a depressing book, though. It's warm and engaging and hopeful, and a must-read whether or not you're a "dog person."

Highly recommended.

I bought this book in ebook format.

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