“With a splendid cast of characters and the cleverest canine in comedy, Apologizing to Dogs is a hilarious, heartwarming and wonderfully human tale and proves that no matter how old you get, there’s always something worth holding on to, fighting for and loving with all your might.”
The above graphic is found in the preliminary pages of the novel. It is a depiction of a street in Fort Worth, Texas that has for decades been a sort of antiques mall. Now, it is an antique itself, with fewer customers by the day, mostly elderly shopkeepers, and increasing decrepitude. Trade is less than brisk. The people on the street are an ensemble of quirky, bizarre, and sometimes lonely people. Also on the street lives a stray dog named ‘Himself’. A keen observer of the street’s inhabitants, he is wise beyond his two years. He resides beneath the porch of #8.
“He’d been alive for two years now but it seemed like always. He had lived under the porch for most of this time. For the first year of his life the hole in the lattice got smaller every day, but lately it’s stayed the same size.”
The neighbors of Worth Row include a wide variety of eccentrics:
#1 Nadine – Fifty-something, and not as young as she thinks herself to be, Nadine runs a vintage clothing shop. She wears her vintage clothes in such a way that drives her neighbor Carl to distraction.
Nadine’s late mother was once the ‘matriarch’ of Worth Row and is much missed by many of the street’s residents. She was especially loved by Mose and Effie, in very different ways of course.
#2 Carl – Upon discovering that his shot-gun style home was constructed of cypress wood, he is slowly dismantling it from the inside out. He is using the valuable cypress wood to build a 32 foot, oceangoing sailboat for his neighbor Nadine as a way of showing her he cares.
None of his neighbors are aware that his house is now just a shell surrounding the large boat.
#3 Mose – owns ‘Time & Music Antiques’. He is in his late seventies and is good at fixing things. He fancies himself an inventor, though he has never actually invented anything. Mose was in love with Nadine’s late mother.
#4 Howard Dog-In-His-Path – is an American Indian who once robbed graves and keeps track of every pet buried in his neighbor’s yards. His yard is strewn with old bathtubs in which he often can be found napping.
At 83 years old, Howard is the keeper of the street’s secrets.
#5 Verda – sells antique figurines, salt & pepper shakers, and other trinkets. She is the proud dog mamma of two Pekingese dogs hilariously named Dideebiteya and Yeseedid.
#6 Effie – is a widow in her early seventies, Effie keeps a running journal of all the goings on in Worth Row. The typical ‘nosy’ neighbor, Effie is paranoid and suspicious that everyone wants to steal her ‘things’ and is talking about her.
#7 Tradio and Arthur – A devoted gay couple who sell used items. Tradio is so named because he has a radio call-in show where folk can buy, sell, or trade used items.
#8 Mrs. Martin (deceased) – a former tearoom which has been purchased by the bank – the building is unoccupied. (except for Himself who lives under the front porch).
“So people sold the books they’d finished cheaply and paid dearly for those they hadn’t.”
#9 Mazelle and her husband – run a used book shop. She does the book end of things and he does the heavy lifting. A retired truck driver, Mazelle’s husband has a collection of things that caused him to have flat tires. A board full of mounted rusty nails and other sharp objects.
#10 Aura and Marshall – run a silver matching service. Aura is fat, Marshall is very tall and thin. The archetypal Mutt and Jeff couple. Not long married, they are trying for a baby who will be a cross of their vastly different body styles. Aura is SO fat, that the couple don’t realize that she is already nine months pregnant.
#11 Mr. and Mrs. Haygood – sell vintage toys. Mrs. Haygood is passionate about her garden which she works on jointly with her neighbor, Mazelle’s husband. Meanwhile, Mr. Haygood is having a decades long affair with Mazelle…
#12 Arlen and Louise – rarely open their Art Deco antique store. They would rather spend their days at the local mall outside the photo shop watching the pictures of other people’s lives roll off the developing machines.
On an October day in 1986, a violent thunderstorm/tornado will set into motion life-altering events for the residents of the shabby Worth Row exposing over three decades of secrets and imploding the life they once knew.
I have owned a hardcover copy of “Apologizing to Dogs” for some time now. I’m thankful I finally put aside my review commitments long enough to read it. This is not the first novel by Coomer that I have read. “A pocketful of names” remains vividly in my memory, even though I read it about twelve years ago.
As with my first book by Coomer, it was truly a rewarding reading experience. The myriad names and characters were a bit confusing at the outset, but due to rich characterization, they soon became vividly individual and recognizable. Coomer has a talent for sharp observation of human foibles and idiosyncrasies. The story is related with equal parts empathy and humor.
All the action in the novel takes place in a single day. With so many varied characters and so many divulged secrets, it is a very busy day indeed. I did find the beginning of the novel a bit slow and confusing, however it soon picked up and became clear. I beg potential readers to give it more than one chapter before throwing in the towel. It is worth the effort. Though, to be fair, this book is as quirky as the characters within its pages.
Joe Coomer himself runs antique malls, so I’m sure that the many people he meets in his daily life serve as inspiration for this novel – which manages to be both very sad, and very humorous at the same time. I enjoyed this read very much (but not as much as Coomer’s wonderful novel “A Pocketful of Names”). I recommend this book to all dog lovers, those readers who like quirky characters, and those who enjoy a few giggles while reading.
I read this novel as part of my A-Z of those I own challenge.
P.S. – The sweet dogs at the head of this post are my grand-dogs, Kooper and Oakley. They wanted to be on my blog, so I couldn’t say no. LOL
Joe Coomer, 1958- lives outside of Fort Worth, Texas, and in Stonington, Maine. Coomer attended the University of Kentucky between 1977 and 1979 and subsequently attended the University of Texas at Arlington a single semester. He completed his undergraduate degree at Southern Methodist University in 1981.
Coomer wrote his first books while working at his family’s lumber yard and working several part-time jobs. His first novel, The Decatur Road, won the Jones Fiction Prize from the Texas Institute of Letters in 1984. The book originated as three short stories created for his senior thesis project.
He married Heather Hutton, whom he had met in Taos, New Mexico, in 1986. They were wed in the Coomer family compound on the site of a home they were building. The couple established two antique malls in the Dallas-Fort Worth area shortly after they wed. They divorced in 2000.
He married Isabelle Tokumaru, an artist and art conservator, in Maine in 2003.
Coomer spends his winters in Springtown, Texas, where he runs three large antique malls. He lives in a fairly new Victorian house that he spent a year and a half building in the late eighties, a project he wrote about in Dream House . His current wife, Isabelle Tokumaru, runs her paintings conservation practice in the third story, while he writes novels in the kitchen, where the food is close. Summers, they live in Stonington, Maine, an active fishing village on the coast. When the weather’s nice, he takes his old motor sailer, “Yonder”, on day sails and cruises down east. He chronicled her purchase, restoration, and his stupidities at sea in Sailing in a Spoonful of Water.