Clara - The Early Years
February 12, 2009
Margo Kaufman

I love pugs. There, I said it!  When I was given the opportunity to read, and review, this book, I couldn't help but grin from ear-to-ear. What a treat this was gonna be; to spend time reading about a subject with which I am intimately involved, being, along with Arnold, the parents to our very own pug, Rosco.  That, however, is the only resemblance between the lives of the characters in Clara's life, and ours. Permit me to explain.

The humans in this story are parents to two pugs; Sophie, and Clara.  Sophie is the elder of the two, but Clara rules the roost.  Margo Kaufman is a Baltimore born Jewish girl who has migrated to Venice Beach, California, and surrounded herself with some of the state's finest, and flakiest people. She, and her husband Duke, are happily married professionals who are in the process of adopting a child from abroad. Margo, the author of this book, obviously possesses keen maternal instincts judging from the way she fawns over her pug children, especially Clara. When she flies to New York City to meet with her publisher, and to appear on several TV programs promoting her new book, she shleps Clara along with her.  She sneaks the pug into her publicist's office in her overly large tote bag, and then proceeds to surprise everyone in the place with the presence of the socially active Clara.

Fortunately, Clara is a very charismatic black pug, who loves being around people, and goes out of her way to milk her audience for all the attention she craves. It became increasingly obvious to me that Margo has elevated anthropomorphizing a pet to an art form, and interestingly the projected personality seems to have no use for her.  Clara's skill at winning the hearts of people she meets apparently derives from her ability to analyze, in her own little doggie brain, exactly what an audience, or individual, will respond to; and then delivering a pitch perfect performance.  The end goal is always the pursuit of belly rubs or, the ultimate reward, something good to eat.  Along with everyone she meets at the publicist's office, she also wins the hearts of cab drivers, the management, and staff of some very posh hotels, flight attendants, TV interviewers of the highest celebrity, and anyone else with whom she comes into contact.  There is no doubt that Clara is a lovely, and talented dog, but the key word here is.....DOG.  As much as our author would care to believe that Clara is her very own human companion, and no matter how complex the personality that she has carefully developed for her pet is, Clara remains very much a dog.

To be perfectly frank, I preferred the pugs, both Clara and Sophie, over the humans in this story. Margo is constantly dropping names of important people she knows, the finest five star hotels at which she stays (with Clara, of course,) the fanciest of restaurants, and the cost of her own, and Clara's personal accoutrements. She appears to place a great deal of importance on what she owns, how much she spends, and how popular she is.

Her husband, Duke, is in this book primarily as a supporting character. He spends quite a bit of time mocking Margo, trivializing her anxieties, and doing his best to avoid dealing with the complications of adopting their Russian baby. No chore seems too trivial to pass along to his wife. The only time he shines is when there is a prospect of eating at a Chinese restaurant or finally, in the later chapters, when they are in Russia, and he gets to exercise his rich language skills.

All in all, I enjoyed reading the book, if only because I related to the antics of Clara, and her sister pug Sophie. So many of the attitudes, sounds, and behaviours she attributes to these two pups reminded me greatly of our Rosco. That being said, however, I found the humans in this book totally off putting.  Not just Margo, and Duke, but even the people who play a part in their lives. Most of them behave as if the world revolves around their wishes or, at the very least, should.  I recommend Clara, the Early Years, to anyone who loves dogs, and has experienced having a dog as a member of their family. But if you are expecting to find human characters you can enjoy reading about, in my opinion, go elsewhere.

  From Issue:10.02
Reviewed by: Michael Hanna-Fein
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