The universal theme of attachment shines through in Eileen Myles’ unconventional ‘Afterglow (a dog memoir).’

Stories about dogs and their owners can be heart-rending (”Old Yeller,” “The Art of Racing in the Rain”), but they can just as easily pose grand questions about our own humanity and the fundamentally unknowable aspects of looking into the eyes of another species.

Eileen Myles’ “Afterglow (a dog memoir)” is the story of Rosie, Myles’ canine companion from 1990 to 2006. It ventures into some of the places one might expect from an account of owning a dog from puppyhood until its death, including a number of moving descriptions of Rosie’s physical decline at the end of her life. This begins relatively early in the narrative: In the third chapter, a paragraph begins with the sentence “Rosie began dying in June, having those mysterious fits.”

Myles’ matter-of-fact prose doesn’t make the book any less wrenching to read, nor does telling the story of Rosie’s death early in the book reduce the pain of a primally moving narrative.

But while the story of Myles’ bond with Rosie is at the center of this book, it’s not the only one being told. Instead, Myles uses a familiar narrative as the springboard for a weighty exploration of several grand themes and a series of unpredictable digressions – from the metaphysical to the familial.

Myles has been active in the literary world since the late 1970s. More recently, a character based on Myles appeared on the acclaimed show “Transparent.”


Myles’ work, which encompasses poetry, art criticism and fiction, has received increased attention as of late, including an acclaimed poetry collection, “I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems 1975-2014”; and new editions of the novels “Cool for You” and “Chelsea Girls” – the latter includes a section inspired by time Myles spent working in Maine. (Myles was visiting faculty at Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture this past July.)

Myles’ fiction is frequently autobiographical: “Chelsea Girls” and “Inferno (A Poet’s Novel)” both borrow heavily from Myles’ life and read like memoir. But much as the “novel” designation on those books can be deceiving, the “memoir” in the subtitle of “Afterglow” shouldn’t suggest that this is a work of kitchen-sink realism. Myles makes forays into the philosophical, the experimental and the absurd – including one chapter in which Rosie, after her death, appears on a talk show populated by puppets and engages in a heated discussion about the similarities between the relationships of pets and puppets to humans.

Myles also frequently writes in Rosie’s voice: “So yes I taught her to write. I showed her the way. Work changes in 1990 when I came on the scene.”

Despite the book’s unorthodox structure, the overarching theme in “Afterglow,” namely how Rosie fundamentally altered Myles’ life for the better, is a familiar one in narratives of humans and animals. And for all of the ways in which Myles remembers Rosie, the book also reveals a tremendous sense of absence and loss.

Some passages are addressed directly – and candidly – to Rosie: “But still I’m carrying that little dead dog. The new fat around my hips and waist is kind of you and how we don’t go on our walks anymore.”

Given the bleaker aspects of its subject, “Afterglow” is not always an easy book to read.

With great candor, Myles uses the emotional intimacy of a human’s relationship with a dog to discuss larger questions of emotional intimacy. Early in the book, Myles recollects a reading where, “I read a long one about dogs I wrote before I ever even had one. It was about attachment. How I wanted it. Needed it.”

That could well be an epigraph for the narrative that follows: Through its idiosyncrasy and specificity, “Afterglow” illustrates the lasting bond between humans and dogs in a new way.

New York City resident Tobias Carroll is the author of the novel “Reel” and the short story collection “Transitory” and has reviewed books for Bookforum, the Star Tribune and elsewhere.

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