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'What Is A Dog?': Chloe Shaw’s Memoir About The Canines Of Her Past

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Photo Credit Rachel Liu
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Chloe Shaw

In her debut memoir, Chloe Shaw guides us on an emotional journey that anyone who has ever loved and lost a dog will appreciate.
Highlights from the interview

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On the decision to write this memoir
I had written an essay with the same title [as the book], and it was published in 2018 in American Scholar. And that was kind of my first attempt to write about Booker, our dog who died in 2015. It was such a devastating loss. It took me a little while to get to be able to do that. And when I wrote the essay, something really broke through in my being able to access my true feelings. I've been a fiction writer for a long time and writing that essay, I suddenly felt like I had almost been hiding in my fiction. And so I was able to access all of these feelings and I was very present for the death of that dog there in the past. I think I've really kind of avoided those very difficult [feelings] … even with my beloved dogs in the past, it's just been too hard for me to face and I was just front row center for that. When I wrote the essay, it felt very cathartic for myself, but I heard from a lot of people that it really resonated with them and the loss of an animal and how lonely that can be… A lot of people don't understand how devastating it can feel and, you know, there's so many kinds of grief in life and I would never compare the grief of a person to the grief over an animal, but they are both real. It's almost like they're parallel and there's room for both of them.

On Booker, the dog who inspired the writing of this book
He was an extraordinary dog. I know I'm biased, but he had like groupies and stuff. It was really truly magnificent. His role in my life was so important because, first of all, I met Booker and Matt, my husband, at the same moment. Booker was the reason I agreed to even meet Matt. I wasn't interested in meeting anyone at that point, but my friend said, "Did I tell you he has a dog?" And I said, "No, when shall I meet the dog?" And so that was a huge part of it, but it grew much bigger because he was my first dog of my adult life.

On how writing the memoir about dogs helped her understand herself
Writing fiction for so long, I feel like I loved writing sentences. But on the whole, I felt like I was kind of unable — even in a fictional world of my own imagination — I couldn't really let it all go. I think once I wrote that essay about Booker and then started allowing myself to write this book and was doing so much work in therapy, I went through a very rough period for sure. It was like a good year-and-a-half where I felt like I had no skin on. You just kind of keep showing up... And I hope more people other than "dog people" relate to this book because I do think it is a dog book, but I do think it's also about childhood, girlhood, motherhood, womanhood, anxiety, marriage, loss, grief, and love.

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Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.