THE DOG OF THE NORTH – Elizabeth McKenzie

“They were the whimper rather than the bang at the end of my world, but I could not move forward if I were to permit myself the full brunt of my feelings.”

In continuing with the 2023 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist, I recently read Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Dog of the North (Penguin Press 2023). It’s absolutely stellar. Reminding me at times of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated meets Annie Hartnett’s Unlikely Animals meets Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, it’s a quirky, heart hug of a novel with the strangest cast of lovable misfits you will ever meet.

The novel follows Penny, an anxious 35 year old who is juggling a lot of big feelings that she can squelch if she focuses on the issues of others in her life. She’s left her job and her philandering husband to help her grandmother at the behest of Adult Protective Services. Her grandmother, Dr. Pincer, is not a warm and cuddly grandma. She’s abrasive, abusive, and slipping into dementia. Her home is neither safe nor sanitary, and she apparently has a gun. Penny is tasked with finding the gun and cleaning the home, two tasks that must be performed without Dr. Pincer finding out until after the fact. Penny enlists Bruce, her grandmother’s longtime accountant, to help. Bruce has his own quirks, including a big, green van named the Dog of the North and a Pomeranian named Kweecoats.

In addition to the situation with her grandmother, Penny is dealing with her grandfather’s new wife, who thinks he needs to be put in a home. On top on that, her parents have been missing in Australia for five years and her sister wants to address what they should do with their home. And the police want to question Dr. Pincer about some things found on her property.

It’s a bizarre journey in a green van with a pinata in the back as Penny has to confront her childhood, her anger, her shame, her grief to find the things she holds in her heart. It’s learning when to let go and how to hold on. It’s not being perfect. It’s family. It’s love. It’s putting the crazy on the porch and introducing it to the neighbors. It’s embracing who you are, where you came from, and what you want.

The Dog of the North, with its cleverly depicted characters and their idiosyncrasies, is one of my favorite reads of the year.

Read this book.

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