The awful realization that life comes to a sudden and disappointing end
Mary Bellanova comes home from her demanding and demanding temp job to a boyfriend who is typically unwilling to speak to her, and is instead glued to the TV with a beer in hand. She makes him dinner, argues with him, then forgives him with a kiss — when she realizes he’s dead.
Our hero is a 29-going-on-30 denizen of the East Village plainly named Mary, an aspiring writer who never seems to write. Her boyfriend, Primo’s, death turns her life into a spiralling and increasingly strange series of events. Confronted by her loneliness and lingering feelings for her objectively terrible, but undeserving of death, boyfriend, she must form new relationships and rethink her current ones. This goes, comedically, quite terribly. All of this is compounded by the fact that he leaves behind a large dog for her to care for and his ashes, both of which cause her stress and chain her to the Dogrun in the title. When going through Primo’s things, she finds notes to past girlfriends and begins a fool’s quest to talk to each of them. Revealing more and more details about his life does her, arguably, more harm than good, but her intentional seeking out of these women soon turns to them being inescapable. Every time she goes to a coffee shop with her typewriter, she seems to run into one of his exes or one of two people that she knows. Eventually, these run-ins become more and more implausible — the suspension of disbelief threshold needed for this book is quite high — but they’re still amusing. One point of criticism I’d raise is the uneven plot distribution. A lot happened in the last 50 pages, but this was due to a lot of threads coming together, so I’ll give it a pass. I must say the twisty ending was a bit rushed and forced, despite wrapping the story up in a satisfying and meaty way.
Mary does suffer a bit from being written with an unlikeable disposition. In fact, the entire book feels like a bad dream. She just kind of passively lets things happen to her. A bold career move that she makes in the third act is so out of character it feels like a bucket of cold water. Lucky for Mary, she has a rotating cast of amusing side characters that all seem to have more interesting lives than she does. Her dead boyfriend (a former artist with a mysterious past), her bratty best friend (a ruthless and tactless social climber), her ‘uncle’ Joey (her childhood neighbour with an even more mysterious past) and a variety of male business associates she either sleeps with or gets into fights with — sometimes both.
The theme of the novel, if you can ascribe a message to it, is that of urban ennui mixed with nihilism: “Primo’s death had truly smacked me with the awful realization that all life eventually comes down to is an unexpected fuck-you ending.” Well said.