Must Love Dogs
How do you get back into the dating scene after your divorce? Must Love Dogs shows how one woman copes with yet another change in her life, in a light but never fluffy book that I breezed through, smiling most of the time.
Preschool teacher and divorcée Sarah Hurlihy knows there’s got to be more to life than her routine of work and Brady Bunch reruns, interspersed with visits to and from her large Irish-Catholic family. Her widowed father and many (married) siblings keep urging her to get out and start dating again, but Sarah just doesn’t have the energy. Finally goaded into answering a singles ad in the paper, Sarah shows up at the appointed time and place, only to undergo total humiliation, and she washes her hands of the whole dating thing. When her bossy older sister Carol places an ad for her, Sarah’s not quite prepared for some of the responses it generates.
As she’s sifting through them, the father of one of her students begins a subtle flirting campaign with Sarah – or is he really after June, her spacey but beautiful young assistant? And why did Carol include the phrase “must love dogs” in that stupid ad? Sarah doesn’t even own a dog, so she has to borrow her brother’s St. Bernard, Mother Teresa, when she finally arranges a doggie-centered date – with a guy who, while he doesn’t exactly live up to his self-proclaimed resemblance to Harrison Ford, definitely shows some promise. As she’s trying to sort out her personal life, Sarah keeps getting distracted by all the goings-on of her family – Dad’s Casanova-like juggling of who knows how many ladies, brother Mike’s crumbling marriage, Carol’s fractious relationship with her teenage daughter Siobhan, and the perfect example of domestic bliss that younger sister Christine exemplifies.
Sarah’s an interesting character. A wry sense of humor and the ability to laugh at herself help her to avoid coming off as whiny and self-pitying. She’s got a job she loves and knows she is good at, and while she may complain about her family, she’d be lost without them. As the story begins, she’s just reached the point where she’s ready finally to bury the wreck that was her marriage; there’s a poignant scene where she makes a life-size paper doll of her ex and indulges in a farewell dance with “him.”
Ms. Cook does a pretty good job of depicting the ambivalent nature of adult sibling relationships. In spite of the fact that all the Hurlihys are grown up, once they’re together, Carol’s once again the “bossy one,” Christine is the “pretty one,” and Sarah seems to forget that she’s successful in her career and reverts back to her family role as second runner-up in everything. Watching her struggle with this adds some depth to the book. And it’s pretty funny watching the family cope with their father and his amorous adventures, since everybody knows your parents aren’t supposed to be sexual beings at all!
While the book focuses on many different aspects of Sarah’s life, I think readers of contemporary romances will find it enjoyable. Getting to know, and like, Sarah Hurlihy and her goofy family was a pleasant experience. There were more smile-in-recognition moments for me than laugh-out-loud ones, but the book’s overall wry, humorous tone made it an easy read. And you don’t have to love dogs to enjoy it, either.