Church of the Dog
by Kaya McLaren

Penguin Books, 2008. ISBN 978-0-14-311342-3.
Reviewed by Susan Ideus
Posted on 07/07/2008

Fiction: Chick Lit

Meet Mara, Earl, Edith and Daniel—the four narrators of Church of the Dog. This rather unusual format allows author Kaya McLaren to convey the thoughts of each of these characters, giving wonderful depth to each. Mara, the main character, is able to see energy fields around those she meets and also can use her own energy field to heal. Earl is her landlord; Edith is his wife who becomes a friend and mentor to Mara. Daniel is their grandson, emotionally handicapped by the tragic loss of his parents.

Mara is recovering from heartbreak. Her engagement ended when her former fiancé handed her a bill for the gas he used driving her to a hospital emergency room. An art teacher, the young woman believes, "I get to teach young people to look at light and life. I get to encourage them to appreciate themselves, and appreciation is a form of love."

Edith is discontent in her marriage. "I glance at my wedding ring and wonder if it's true, if I really am married...I think I'm just part of his landscape, and he simply accepts and expects my presence. A long time ago his eyes sparkled when he looked at me."

Earl's failing health has him re-evaluating his priorities. "My ranch. It's so strange to think that one day it won't be my ranch. I won't be making the calls...What if this house where I've lived my whole life just falls to the ground? What if the next person undoes everything I spent my life doing?"

Daniel still struggles with the tragic loss of his parents when he was very young. He removes himself from much human contact by working as an Alaskan fisherman, although his grandfather wants him to come home. "Come home to the land of of my losses and failures, to my inadequacies and irrational fears...There is one thing I do like about piloting the ship at night. It's the reason I chose this life. It's the sense of disappearing all over again, disappearing into a night so dark I cannot be seen, in a sea so vast I cannot be found."

Mara is able to sense what Edith, Earl and Daniel need in their lives, and to encourage them. At the same time, she grows and matures. The characters evolve; relationships develop and are explored. They even "travel" and visit one another's dreams—just one more form of communication the author uses in her entertaining story.

This delightful novel was originally released in 2000 and now, according to McLaren, is "a new incarnation." It is at once sad yet hopeful, melancholy yet encouraging. Church of the Dog is a story of redemption and healing, a gentle, mystical treatise on fully embracing life and love, and having the courage to face the future.

The author lives in Washington State and teaches art. She skis and hikes with her dog angel, Big Cedar. Visit her website.

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