Postfeminist toughness and post-hippie sentiment are the alternating currents of this wry, tender novel by Houston (Cowboys Are My Weakness ; Waltzing the Cat ; etc.) about a Colorado playwright and her beloved Irish wolfhound. Rae hasn't had much luck with men, but her love for her dog Dante is pure and uncomplicated. When he is diagnosed with cancer, she puts all of her energies into prolonging his life, volunteering him for experimental surgery. The ups and downs of the three years he spends in remission are narrated from the perspective of the motley friends who float in Rae's out-sized orbit. Chief among these is Howard, the adorably histrionic actor whose love is Rae's main consolation for the looming loss of Dante; there's also Darlene, Rae's tough-as-nails housekeeper, who keeps things running at the ranch while Rae's at her Denver apartment or traveling to exotic places. Then there's restless, jaded Jonathan, Rae's fellow playwright and best friend; Jodi, the young bride of a surrealist painter, who moves to Colorado and finds a soul mate in Rae; Dr. Evans, the driven vet who labors to save Dante; and Brooklyn Underhill, Dr. Evans's idealistic young ex-soldier assistant. And of course, Dante has his own say, as does Rae's rambunctious second dog, Rose, and Darlene's cat, Stanley. Houston isn't afraid to venture into boggy terrain—readers who squirm at the notion that dogs have human "moms" and "souls as deep and authentic as anything in creation" will resist being carried along at first—but the novel's humor and irony are bracing, and different voices provide welcome contrasts in tone. Houston's gift for capturing the dynamic of unorthodox webs of relationships is on pleasing display in this gruffly warmhearted novel. Agent, Liz Darhansoff. (Jan. )
Forecast: Fans of Anne Lamott and Michael Cunningham's early work will appreciate Houston's similar way of dealing with love and friendship. Six-city author tour.
Release date: 01/01/2005