Leave the Dogs at Home (Book Club Edition)
Leave the Dogs at Home is an irreverent take on love and grief.
A story about two crazy, unruly years after my eccentric husband died when I slogged, with good dogs and gritty roots in tow, through post-mortem home repair, career disaster, serial gardening and geezer dating, to discover a better life.
The idea for this memoir came after throwing down the last in a succession of sappy grief books. Disgusted with tales that pandered to the myth of perfect marriages, lovely husbands, and predictable arcs of grief, I knew the rest of us with messy, complicated relationships and non-PC styles of grief needed an antidote.
Unconventional in every way, Jim and I were friends, lovers and sometimes enemies for twenty-seven years. He was a man who loved ideas, and that made me love him. A difficult man who found love the most uncomfortable idea of them all. We finally married, for health insurance, but called our legal bonding “It Means Absolutely Nothing.” Less than two years after we married, he died from cancer.
His illness mutated our long-term arm’s-length relationship to one of caregiver and patient with a wrenching intimacy. More importantly, Jim's death forced me to face up to the hard, evasive truths of our relationship and my connection to the world around me.
This vibrant, witty, and unflinchingly confessional book challenges the norms about love and grief. It’s the kind of real truth you only hear at the kitchen table with a glass of wine.
The book is deeply connected to the land and the working of soil - gardens, nature, and place operate as a metaphors of the brute hand of life and its yielding cycles of healing. The story is set in and around Bloomington, Indiana, with rich descriptions of the quirky community, and chapters that take place in Boxerwood Garden and Highland County hills of Virginia, the harbor of Lockeport in Nova Scotia, the byways of Waterloo, Pennsylvania, the streets of Bangkok, and the seaside Hacienda del Mar resort in Baja, Mexico.
Available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, and Audible formats
Buy your copy or a gift online:
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Indiana University Press
Leave the Dogs at Home is part of the Breakaway Books Series published by Indiana University Press. Book Club Edition.
Leave the Dogs at Home Reviews
2016 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection
"Arbogast delivers a raw and honest narrative of her life as a lover, a widow, and a woman. . .The theme of death and life, both literally and figuratively, are navigated with such emotion, it seems natural to empathize with the author in sadness, joy, love, and uncertainty as her longtime companion (later husband) Jim combats cancer. . . An excellent choice for those touched by grief, ready for a change, or just wanting to read a beautifully written memoir." --Library Journal
"By the time I finished reading Leave the Dogs at Home, I felt sure I was holding a future classic. The best thing about Claire Arbogast, besides her wonderful writing, is her hard-headed sense of intimacy and her stubborn determination to live a life of love—whatever craziness and jury-rigging that might require from the heart." --Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist
"In this stunning debut, Claire Arbogast infuses death with life, giving readers both the gut-punch of grief as well as the warmth of a life well lived. Candid, powerful, and unrelenting, Arbogast’s pain becomes our pain, and her love becomes our love." --B.J. Hollars, author of This Is Only a Test
"Claire Arbogast rewrites the stages of grief in this raw, sometimes unsettling, always compelling memoir that takes us backward and forward in time from the moment her intense, complicated husband is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Leave the Dogs at Home challenges the conventional wisdom about love, marriage, loss, survival, and grace in ways that are bound to make you think about your own life." --Barbara Shoup, author of Looking for Jack Kerouac
"Life, just as a garden, does not have to be perfect and neat to be complete. Leave the Dogs at Home serves as a prime example of how a humble experience in the outdoors can come to our aid in times of need and healing." --Bruce W. Bytnar, Managing Director, Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden
"Leave the Dogs at Home mines the messy, graceful territory of life lived in the midst of upheaval; the roughness and tenderness of it all. Sharp and engaging, this beautiful memoir invites us to think about resilience and reconnection with the strongest parts of Self." --Beth Lodge-Rigal, Creative Director, Women Writing for (a) Change of Bloomington, IN
"Leave the Dogs at Home is a memoir for and about adults and their very real lives. Claire and Jim take nearly a lifetime to move into marriage only to discover Jim has terminal cancer. But this is not so much a book about grief as it is about love. Readers will share that love and arrive at the end both stronger and wiser." --Jesse Lee Kercheval, author of Space: A Memoir and My Life as a Silent Movie
"This very personal memoir is a gift of insightful reflection on how weathering difficult situations and transitions can help us grow and transform and blossom again. The vivid imagery and flowing words were a healing balm. Claire Arbogast has had the courage to find her voice, her true being, and share it." --Gwen Bottoms, Aging to Sage-ing Facilitator
"Claire Arbogast's deeply moving memoir records with honesty and clarity how she managed to move forward with her life despite the death of her husband. Her story beautifully depicts the aftermath of deep personal loss." --Carrol Krause, author of Showers Brothers Furniture Company: The Shared Fortunes of a Family, a City, and a University
"I selected Leave the Dogs at Home as the reader for my first-semester composition course because I hoped my students would relate to a regional author’s work. I anticipated that every student would have some experience dealing with cancer, but I was surprised at how engaged they were with the text’s environmental issues and views on marriage. All my students had something to say about Claire’s unconventional relationship with Jim, and Arbogast’s story made them think critically about love and societal expectations around coupling. The memoir served as a provocative catalyst for collegiate discussion and thoughtful response writing."--Lisa Siefker Bailey, PhD, Indiana University Purdue University Columbus.
"Leave the Dogs at Home is a genre-busting memoir of grief and survival. Claire Arbogast, a former marketing executive who lives in Bloomington, recounts how, in her mid-50’s she survived the death of her husband and built a new life. This could be the subject for hundreds of self-help books, but Arbogast’s rugged, honest account is as fresh, inspiring, and unconventional as she clearly is.
Arbogast and her husband, Jim, had been an on-again/off-again item for 27 years before finally marrying, they said, for insurance reasons. Less than a year into the marriage, Jim became ill with cancer. As Arbogast and Jim fight the disease, she skips the usual self-pity, anger, despair, and rage at doctors, hospitals, and the cancer itself. She and Jim get on with their lives, even taking a trip to Nova Scotia, Canada. When Jim finally succumbs, Arbogast, a fierce gardener and the daughter of florists, decides she will turn “the microbes of decay” to her own advantage and embarks on ambitious landscaping schemes.
As she takes on flooding, marshy land, and a septic field, she cultivates new aspects of herself. Despite the couple’s dismissive claim about their marriage of convenience, Arbogast writes that “a mystical gold cord” had linked them “solar plexus to solar plexus.” So, though she is resourceful and resilient, grief undoes her at times, and she has to fight it as vigorously as she uproots remorseless invasive species in her garden. But she proudly relates that she has emerged from her bleak grief headed not just to a “different life, but a better one and a better me.”
One anecdote perfectly captures Arbogast’s joyful, gritty, irreverence. Immediately after Jim dies, she present several close friends with frog garden sculptures, saying, in words she and her husband had rehearsed, “Jim wanted you to have this for helping him while he croaked.” Arbogast’s memoir, like Jim’s frogs, is a gift to her readers." --By Julie Gray, Bloom Magazine August/September 2015