Walking Back To Happiness

Walking Back To Happiness by Lucy Dillon
Berkley Publishing Group/Penguin, 2011
   Reviewer: Sheri De Grom

Walking Back To Happiness by Lucy Dillon met none of my criteria for buying a book, yet I fell into the proverbial situation of finding it in the stack of eight selections I was buying at my local bookstore.

I should have known I’d buy books if I stopped at the new books display near the front door. My rules for selecting books include three critical elements: 1) never select a book based on cover art, 2) never buy a book based on blurbs and the back cover write-up, and 3) never buy a book I haven’t read the first and a middle chapter.

But, heaven didn’t help me when I picked up Walking Back To Happiness. First, there’s a sad-eyed looking dog on the cover with his leash in his mouth. I couldn’t possibly put that down. Second—the blurbs and the back cover would have cinched the deal if the sad-eyed dog hadn’t already pawed his way into my animal- loving heart. There was no use arguing with myself about reading my required number of pages. I’d time, I just hadn’t done it.

I read as I walked to the car. I had to see if I’d made the correct decision in buying Walking Back To Happiness. It didn’t matter that I was toting seven other new books—and three in the car that I was already reading—I had to know about this sad dog and who was going to walk him. I did tell you I’m a sucker for animals, didn’t I?

I soon met Juliet Falconer and her Jack Russell-ish terrier, Minton. Minton actually belonged to Ben, Juliet’s late husband who’d died eight months earlier of a heart attack.

Minton had always been Ben’s dog, despite the fact that Juliet fed him, cleaned up after him, and pried the socks out of his mouth. He had gone to work with Ben and kept up with Ben’s long strides. Now, though, sometimes she wondered who was looking after whom. But on one thing Juliet and Minton both agreed. Neither wanted to go anywhere, see anyone and specifically talk to no one. . .not even to each other.

It seemed everyone—including Juliet’s mother, sister, neighbors, the people in the small English village where she lived and Ben’s former clients—had determined that Juliet was much too young at 31 to be a widow. They decided it was their job to get her out of the house and into the daylight. And, what about poor Minton? He was just a young lad. He needed to run and play, they said. Minton didn’t think so. He hid his ball.

Diane, Juliet’s mother, filled there frigerator with food but Juliet had been a caterer for ten years. The last thing she wanted was food. Her mother was convinced Juliet would fade away but Juliet wanted to live on Kit Kats and reminded her mother that after ten years of baking, she doubted if she’d fade away.

Louise, Juliet’s sister, conspired with their mother that Juliet should keep Coco, the mother’s chocolate Lab two to three days a week while mother takes care of Louise’s toddler, Tobby. Louise is going back to work after eighteen months of maternity leave. Louise doesn’t really care if the baby is around Coco but if Juliet takes care of Coco that means Juliet will have to leave her house during the day to walk her—Coco’s elderly and her bladder wouldn’t hold all day.

The sister relationship carries a strong sub-plot that intertwines with Juliet trying to come to terms with Ben’s death.

Louise, an attorney, only goes back to work after eighteen months because she’s bored staying at home and only talking about baby things. She’s lost her real identity. She’s lost interest in her husband and he no longer interacts with her either—except to talk about their child. Louise knows she was once an interesting person—what happened to her?

Pg. 60-61 [Louise felt as if she were floating above herself . . . I’ve changed, she thought, But when? . . . At what moment did I go from someone who spends thousands on ‘an investment sofa’ to someone who spends thousands on baby clothes that last days? At what moment did my desire for this very desirable man drain away, leaving just the shell of the loving wife he still sees? Was it sudden, or slow? . . .

Louise’s legal mind could pinpoint the exact moment when her whole world had tilted and began the awful slide into secrets and doubts. Lies and behavior that she couldn’t believe were hers. It was the day her sister phoned and told her that Ben had dropped dead of a heart attack.”] . . .

That was also the same day that Juliet’s world changed forever, but Louise didn’t equate their worlds. The sisters that had been so close suddenly moved far apart in their relationship.

Juliet and Ben had planned to start work on their house at the time he’d died, but had they really? They’d just had a huge fight and as Ben had left for work the morning he’d died, Juliet had been saying terrible things to him. She’d accused him of never wanting to grow up. How could she possibly get on with major renovations of their home now? And how could she consider it her house when it had always been their house? Life was not fair.

Her next door neighbor Lorcan appeared, well—he was just staying with the next door neighbors and happened to be a contractor (wasn’t that handy)—and Juliet’s mom and dad made it possible for Lorcan to work on Juliet’s house when he wasn’t out on jobs. Juliet didn’t much like the idea but Lorcan kept locating the very pricy items she and Ben had planned to use in their renovations.

During her many dog walks, Juliet met up with other dog owners and the word was out, she’d become a professional dog walker. Soon she had a full client list and took on some cat sitting as well.

Juliet rather liked the cat sitting. She made sure she had enough time to stay with the cats and carry on conversations plus play with them and brush their hair. She found it amazing, the things you could find out about a person just from feeding their pets.

Pg. 199 . . . [“Juliet had read the chapter about new relationships in all her bereavement guides with a sense of detachment, because she couldn’t actively imagine starting a new relationship. It was like seeing St. Paul’s Cathedral flattened in front of you and then being handed the plans to rebuild it.”] . . .

Pg. 199 . . . [“But even in her still-numb state, she felt a small tingle of excitement that someone was asking her out. Excitement and nerves and a nostalgic fear that she hadn’t felt since she was a teenager, although Mark was no teenager—he was an adult, with complicated domestic arrangements, and an air of attractive competence that she couldn’t help warming to.”] . . .

Juliet hoped his name was really Mark; a dog walker always knows the dog’s name and then seems to lose focus on the owner’s name. She positively had to do something about that.

Secrets build in this novel. The mother suddenly has a new hairstyle with highlights and stylish new glasses. Is there a spring in her step? Louise’s husband continues to invite her on date nights. What’s wrong that his loving wife has disappeared and avoids his every advance? And, Juliet, she’s positively happy and glowing all at the same time.

It seems every character in Walking Back To Happiness faces huge internal tension and there’s plenty of the external stuff to go around to satisfy picky readers. Minton nearly loses his life over his own internal tension. How can you pass up a read where the dog starts out watching daytime television with his mistress and is at the vet the following New Year’s Eve because his unresolved grief and sorrow had to be acted upon immediately?

I thought this novel might be a light read—I took my chances. I found two sisters, each with a broken heart, entangled with the same man, although they didn’t know it at the time, and one of them was even calling him by the wrong name because she met him while walking his dog.

Walking Back To Happiness had numerous thought provoking passages and others that made me laugh out loud.

Today, I greet dog walkers with new respect when I’m out and about with my own. And, it’s true: I often know the dogs’ names and not the owners’.

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About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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11 Responses to Walking Back To Happiness

  1. Darcy Crowder says:

    Wonderful review! I just downloaded it to my kindle….know what I’ll be doing this weekend. 🙂

  2. Sheri,
    Aww, the dog with the leash in his mouth! I would have bought the book for its cover, too. In fact, your review is so intriguing, I’m going to buy the book now. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. Hey, Florence – How nice to see you here. I know what you mean about that TBR pile. I’m always making up rules about how many books I have to read from my present piles before I can buy more – but – well you know what they say about rules. Break the darn things! This was a different read for me – Lucy Dillon made me laugh right out loud – that’s a real compliment to an author. I’m looking forward to your month of books and seeing new titles – bring them on.

  4. Sheri, I have a pile of books in my TBR list that I have been pointedly trying to ignore. I do swear they have a voice and nag me … “Hey you, get over here and read me!” This one would have grabbed me by the cover as well. You review has nailed my heart to the wall and now I fear another impatient story will yell at me from the corners of my room … “Hey, I’m a story about a sad dog. Pick me up first!” Thanks for the great review. You have a gentle touch and that is a great trait in a reviewer 🙂

  5. Just bought it. Thanks, Sheri, for the review.
    Patti

    • Patti – I’ll always let you know when I review an e-book. I’m going to do it one of these days – because all authors deserve a reviewers time and attention. The problem I have – when I review a book – I use multiple color hi-lighters and write in the margins (I know – it makes some people shudder) – and I haven’t figured out how to do everything the way I want with an e-book. But – I’ll get there. Like you – the dog on the cover with the leash in his mouth pulled me right in for a purchase.

  6. Well, ANY dog on ANY cover grabs my attention and your review is so intriguing that, YEP, I’ve gotta buy this one. Hoping it’s in print and not an e-book.
    Patti

  7. Oh, now I’m dying to see who the wrong-named man IS — great teaser!

    • Funny lady, Laurie. That’s the reason I had to find a photo of a man in a shadow:) Lucy Dillon wove in great plot points. I’d never realized it before – I always thought I was a people person – but the dogs I meet when I’m walking our two – I must confess – I know the dog’s names and often not the owner’s. This is also a great family dynamics story – there’s a lot going on in the entire family plus the family that lives next door to Juliet.

      Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend before class starts next week.

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