cover image Like a Dog

Like a Dog

Tara Jepsen. City Lights, $15.95 trade paper (156p) ISBN 978-0-87286-734-5

Jepsen’s emotional, challenging first novel focuses on family and addiction. Paloma drifts through her underemployed early 30s, skating in empty pools in Northern California suburbs and indifferently pursuing both male and female sexual partners. Her brother, Peter, a shakily recovered addict, connects her to a marijuana farm where he has a job lined up for both of them. Paloma’s will be to travel to Los Angeles as a salesperson to the famous for the farm’s pricey products, which are on the cusp of legalization. Though she proves successful at selling, she yearns to do stand-up comedy. Her imagined sets are wry takes on being a female comic and feature clever physical humor, but once she’s onstage, her awkwardness derails her. Despite her missteps, she finds increased happiness, stability, and hope. Peter, however, spirals back into his drug addiction, finally requiring Paloma to abandon her willful ignorance of his problems. Jepsen’s pace feels almost frantic as Paloma flits between her own bad choices and conflicting desires. Though the tone and themes are heavy, there’s a sardonic humor and queer vitality to balance the bleakness. This is a difficult but urgent novel about the costs of dependency and the ways people obscure what they don’t want to see. (Sept.)