Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Book Review: Stepdog (stepkids, stepmom, stepdog, Puerto Rico, LA, New York, The Times, family)

Stepdog: A Memoir, by Mireya Navarro (Putnam, 248 pages, 2015, $26.95)

Where is Common Sense When You Need It? (Hidden in the Humor?)

Stepdog might be a difficult book for some to finish, albeit its sensitivity, humanity and humor will carry you through to the end and, yes, in the end, the dog lives! Yay! Yet difficult in that you want to shake the author, Mireya Navarro, into common sense about her relationship (or lack thereof) with Eddie the dog.

Navarro has written about her delightful life with her Puerto Rican upbringing and values and culture and food but mostly with family. She is also a gifted journalist for The New York Times, with postings in Miami, Los Angeles, and New York, and working trips all over the world to cover life in word pictures. And, finally, Navarro shows that love does indeed conquer (almost) all, even if it comes later in life.

Stepmom and Stepkids and Stepdog

Navarro marries another journalist but first they conduct a cross-country relationship, then join households for a while before making it legal for the Puerto Rican extended family and the Californian community. Of course, there are two instant kids, almost teens, and one instant disobedient stepdog who substitutes for all that is bumpy with life.

I do want to shake some sense into the author who vehemently dislikes the dog, Eddie, and schemes to rid the family of their best friend but only in her thoughts – the feeling is mutual, however, along with his growling at and ignoring that human who moved into his house and his life, competing for the attention of his person and her new husband, Jim.

Of course, having indifferent stepkids on weekends is tough, especially when one’s dear husband wants to do all the parenting and manages to forget to include his new wife time and time again, for years.

A Gem in the Humor Aisle

On the other hand, the humorous writing style makes Stepdog a gem!  And though the entire book is NOT about Navarro vs. Eddie and Eddie vs. Navarro – as a matter of fact, most pages go by with nary a mention of the dog – everything Navarro writes is spellbinding and includes you as part of her up-and-down life. 

And everyone else thinks the dog is cute: probably a cattle dog mix of about 40 pounds, complete with spots.

Who’s Top Dog?

The relationship between Navarro and Jim never falters, even through counseling, but Navarro constantly plots to get rid of the dog. Husband says, “I’m not into all this training stuff. I just kind of let him be a dog. That’s good enough for me. . . . a happy guy and a good companion.” (p. 115) (a good thing for dog trainers to keep in mind, too)

Commanding the dog to no avail, harsh words, trying out that ‘calm, assertive’ gobbledegook – nothing helped the relationship until Navarro happened upon a few good books and a veterinary behaviorist who suggested Navarro be the one to feed Eddie. And what do you know, it worked, as any positive-reinforcement trainer could tell you at first sight.

What Didn’t We Like?

The transformation in the relationship occurs near the end of the book and rather too quickly, and the photos at each chapter’s beginning could easily be larger. The cover photo of Eddie, however, grows on you.

What Did We Like?

Everything else! And that’s a lot! Even the non-dog incidents, which most of the book contains, were funny and sensitive and humanizing and, just like life! I even wanted to be Mireya Navarro – or least be her best friend along with all the drama and tears and great parties.

Could It Be. . . ?

Could it be that Stepmom is three books in one? A book about dogs, a book about stepfamilies and lasting love, a book about growing up as we are growing older with the help of dog training where the people are more the learners than the dog?

Caveat: This is an indepedent, objective review. DogEvals received no compensation, not even the book!

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