Strays, Surrenders, Seniors: a review of Addicted to Dog Magazines by Laura Stamps. Impspired. Lincoln, UK. 2022. $10.00 paper.
Part satire, part journal, all engaging story, Addicted to Dog Magazines, set in Wilmington, North Carolina, is Darlene’s story. She is divorced with no children, from Kansas, lives in an apartment with no pets, works at a beachwear shop, and has a best friend, Paula, who has a cat. Both women are addicted to chocolate, but in a good way. Addicted to Dog Magazines is a novella, also a character study that reveals Darlene’s individuality and humanity. Darlene, in all her zest and complexity, is compulsive, curious, and curiously dependent on Max, the tricolor Chihuahua that lives in her mind.
Darlene is compulsive in how she talks, sees, looks and lives. She speaks in staccato rhythms, repeats single words and phrases. She sees pictures and ads in the magazines, and describes details from both, as well as from articles, say, on dog travel, a doggie seat with a harness. A self-described minimalist, Darlene’s earrings are either silver or gold, and whatever she wears must go with her earrings. There’s a phrase, walking with purpose, and Darlene is compulsive about being happy and free. Keep in mind, she doesn’t have a dog, not yet.
“I should go to PetSmart tomorrow. Check out the brushes. You know. Just to look. That’s all. Just. Looking. I am. Not buying. No. Seriously. I swear.”
The poet William Carlos Williams said “no ideas but in things.” Darlene’s curiosity lies within pages of dog magazines. Why would someone who doesn’t have a pet buy dog magazines, much less become addicted? Curiosity. Darlene’s nature. Not so much the cover, or table of contents, but pictures grab her attention, people with dogs, and pictures in ads for dog treats, jewelry, sweaters, grooming tools, gift boxes, and even litter boxes a dog lover can take to a hotel for dogs, where the dog can unwind with a massage. This isn’t all fun and games. Not by a long shot. Darlene, who has only her imaginary dog, knows “how the other half lives.”
“Skip the list of contributing editors. But, but, but. Stop for their photos. Yes. I stop for those too.”
Curiously dependent. An observer might say, she’s quite eccentric, talking about a dog that isn’t there, that isn’t real. But no one knows about Max, not even Paula. Just as Darlene observes customers in the beachwear shop inquiring about a prom dress and even a lawn mower, the reader observes Darlene, at home, her minimalist apartment, with dog magazines stacked by order of date or alphabetically by order of title. But no dog to depend on her. Except Max, whom she depends on. “He’s a secret. My secret. A gift. The gift I give to myself. Every day.”
Ads for pet insurance, anxiety meds, ice cream for dogs, Addicted to Dog Magazines is jaunty and lighthearted on the surface, but its underlying message is serious: go to a shelter and save a life, save two lives, save as many as you can. The creator of Darlene’s world is a person who loves animals. That’s very clear. A person mindful of animals’ needs and the joy they bring to human lives. Addicted to Dog Magazines is not only a gift to discerning readers of fiction, but also to the animal wellness community. People in that community would definitely benefit from reading this book, a book about a world that includes animals imaginary and real.