There are few absolute truths in the world…night follows day, the phone will ring at dinner time, and dog stories never end well. There is no Happily Ever After for dog stories, as we almost always get to, and through, the ever after part. Old Yeller, Marley and Me, Sounder, it pretty much holds true for dog stories across the board. Because of this fact of life, you would think I would know better than to read a book like Cowboy and Wills on the train…and yet…
It’s no fun to cry surrounded by commuting Wall Streeters and Broadway matinee goers, but Monica Holloway, the author of this memoir, got me in a big way. Wills is Monica’s high-functioning autistic son who, like every child, has an uncanny ability to show us more about the world and living in it than we know ourselves. Mom and Dad (well, Mom anyway) gathers to the home a menagerie of animals, from hermit crabs and goldfish to hamsters, rabbits, and more, to give young Wills a way in to feeling for and caring for another being. Wills’ issue isn’t caring, if anything he cares too much, is too close to the surface with his heart to let the tiny moment by moment crises of life roll off his back. It is a privilege, I guess, to grow a thick skin as life goes on, and Wills doesn’t have that going on (though these pages will make you wish for some of Wills’ readiness to relate to only what is right in front of him instead of all the other baggage swirling around). When the family plans on, prepares for, and ramps up their lives for the arrival of a Golden Retriever puppy, Cowboy, it’s pretty clear that breakthroughs are on the way.
From the get-go, we recognize that Wills is a pretty amazing guy, and breakthroughs are going to happen, dog or no, but anybody who has ever known a Golden (I miss ours so much) knows that having one wriggle its way into your heart can only be a good thing. And of course, anyone who has ever had any kind of animal companion knows that part of the bargain is mortality…and it is no spoiler, as we know how dog stories go, to say that having to outlive a dog sucks in every way imaginable (though the alternative ain’t so grand either). Wills’ relationship with Cowboy parallels his relationships with everyone in his life, at home, at school, in extra-curricular learning programs, with a therapist, etc…his world cracks open, in a good way, one careful bit at a time.
You’ll love this book. You’ll cry. You’ll cluck your tongue and smile with recognition at Wills’ perspective and cringe along with Monica’s tap dancing as fast as she can to make it all better. And you’ll wish you could grab that beautiful blonde hunk of fur and squeeze and kiss her cold nose.
And if you’re reading it on the train–take Kleenex!