Most helpful positive review
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Compelling memoir, beautifully researched
on January 4, 2012
I came across a reference to this book in The Whole Dog Journal, where it talked about the way the book takes on the outmoded notion of "alphas" in canine behavior. I was intrigued, so I got the free sample, zoomed through it, and then bought the whole book, which I ended up reading straight through all night and into the early hours of the morning.
If it appears that I came to this book with an agenda, I did, but as far as I can tell from reading reviews here, so did many other reviewers who seem to judge the book on whether they agree with the writer's training methods or agree with her opinions on wolf hybrids. Certainly we all hold our opinions, but those opinions don't really tell much about the book itself, so I wanted to admit my agenda first, and then move on from it. I had to anyway: as it turns out, the book is not too much about dominance theories (though it does address them, including the ways in which such ideas have been disproven), but it is a lot about canine (and human!) behavior.
More than that, the book is a memoir, and it is a compelling story, well told. The writer does a good job of showing us what her life was like, years ago, when as a naive and frightened young woman, she got a wolf hybrid, hoping for protection from the abusive man in her life at the time. As a teacher of writing, I expect good memoir to do several things: it should be honest, and create a complex (not necessarily sympathetic) character out of the narrator, and it should include reflection--we expect to know that the writer knows more than they did at the time of action, and we expect to seem some reflection on these past actions. Terrill does all this beautifully.
In the first several chapters, which are tied very closely to the time of action, and thus contain little reflection, I was both drawn in by the narrator's story, and a little repelled by her naivete--her reasons for getting a wolf dog were shaky at best, and when the narrator said that only a wolf dog could keep up with her wilderness treks I rolled my eyes, but I kept with it, because the book is so beautifully written. It was the writer's choice not to comment too much on the early mistakes she made--we'll get plenty of that later--and it was a good choice in the end, because as we read, we're drawn along by the young woman's innocence and naivete. It's heartbreaking, and as other reviewers note, the sense of doom in the book is palpable, but this makes for compelling reading.
Interwoven with the memoir parts of the book is quite a bit of research the writer did much later. This research ranges wildly, from information on dominance theory (yep, it's in here!), to a visit to the Siberian foxes used in the studies on genetic domestication, to information and statistics on wolves in the west, particularly in Oregon. All of this research is relevant to the story and enriches it, and it serves as the time of writing voice--here is the wiser (and sadder) narrator who now knows quite a lot more about canines in general. The research is up to date, and the book includes footnotes and a bibliography (yay!) for those who want to learn more about the issues raised in the book, issues that should be of interest to anyone fascinated by canine behavior.
I suppose this book is a hybrid itself--part memoir, part thesis on canine behavior--but it is a book that blends its two parts seamlessly, and the book has much to say on canine and human behavior, and it makes a pretty powerful argument that wolf hybrids are, in most cases, a bad idea.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in canines, and also to readers of memoir, and those interested in contemporary nonfiction.