"To choose to live with a dog," Mark Doty writes, "is to agree to participate in a long process of interpretation." Life-affirming, lyrical, and profoundly affecting, Dog Years (HarperCollins) is the record of that interpretive journey, from the moment Doty first sees Arden—one of two retrievers that would challenge, shape, and eventually save his life—in a small cage at the animal shelter. "This is the point where love, the very beginning of love, shades right out of languages grasp." A few years later, as his partner, Wally, faces death, Doty returns to the shelter and adopts Beau, whose "absolute openness of regard" enchants him. In the years to come, it is Beau who becomes Doty's vessel, "himself, yes, plain, ordinary, and perfect in that sloppy dog way—but he carried something else for me, too, which was my will to live. I had given it to him to carry for me, like some king in a fairy tale..."
Grief, hope, love, and art; Emily Dickinson, 9/11, depression, renewal, and the part in each of us we must "let...be abandoned by God." Only Mark Doty could have written a dog book (100 percent soul, 0 percent sentimentality) that covers so much ground without ever abandoning its four-footed subjects. "It isn't that one wants to live for the sake of a dog, exactly," he reasons, "but that dogs show you why you might want to."