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Judge Bryan Byun's Blog

• Location: Albuquerque, NM
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Blog Book Review: The Dog Walker by Leslie Schnur
March 9th, 2006 3:11PM

Leslie Schnur's The Dog Walker tells the story of Nina Shepard, a Manhattan dog walker who falls for a man she's never met, but has gotten to know by snooping through his apartment while picking up his Weimaraner for walks. Complications ensue.

I received this novel for review many months ago, and it's taken me this long to review it. I'm ashamed to admit it, but this book defeated me. The Dog Walker is my personal Vietnam. In choosing to review this book, I committed one of the classic blunders. The first being, of course, "never start a land war in Asia," and the second being "never attempt to read a chick lit novel if you have testicles."

And oh boy, is this chick lit. How do I know? Let me count the ways. First of all, it has female legs on the cover (1). All chick lit novels must feature female legs on the cover. I don't know why, but it's the law. It sports a spunky, quirky heroine (2) with a quirky, hip occupation (3) who worries about being too fat (4) and old (5) and whether or not she'll ever get married (6). Luckily, she's got a smart-alecky best friend (7) with whom she commiserates and gripes about what jerks men are (8). Also, the word "cute" appears about twenty times per page (9-4210).

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not one of those guy-guys who's constantly making fun of chick lit and chick flicks. I like Sandra Bullock. I saw My Best Friend's Wedding -- and I loved it! I'm an enemy of neither women nor women's literature. I love Jane Austen and James Bond in equal measure.

But I defy even chick lit lovers to read The Dog Walker without being at least a little bit horrified. This is the first novel by Schnur, a former editor-in-chief of a publishing house, and it reads like a story not so much composed as assembled out of parts of other chick lit books. Anyone who's ever submitted such a manuscript to Delacorte Press or Dell might want to read through this to make sure the author didn't just clip the best sections out of the slush pile submissions and change the character names. I wish I were kidding.

The Dog Walker wouldn't be so bad if it weren't so aggressively, blandly quirky. There's some genuine humor to be found in Nina's snarky observations and the zany, sitcom-style situations she gets into, but there's no sense of a genuine personality here, just a collection of familiar quirks and attitudes, bound up with a writing style so nondescript as to be practically nonexistent.

After the first few pages, I started to imagine that The Dog Walker wasn't a chick lit novel at all, but in fact a chilling psychological thriller. I mean, you've got this woman who snoops through strangers' apartments, becomes romantically obsessed with men she has never met, to the point of carrying on a fantasy affair in his apartment while he's out of town, and who, despite being in her mid-thirties, still refers to her genitalia -- in her own thoughts as "between her legs" and "there." Once I realized that this character was actually insane, and not just "wacky" insane but actually clinically psychotic, I started to really get into the book. It's almost as if Single White Female had been told exclusively from the crazy lady's point of view. Or like the first half of He Loves Me...He Loves Me Not. If Schnur had gone with that angle, she'd have had a book-length treatment for a crackling good thriller instead of just a book-length treatment for a cookie-cutter romantic comedy. And you'd better believe The Dog Walker is going to be made into a movie. (It is -- Universal acquired the rights before the book even landed on shelves. It'll star Reese Whitherspoon and be written by the geniuses behind How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.)

The final indignity I had to suffer in reading this truly atrocious novel is finding that, at the back of the book, there's a section of discussion questions for book clubs. I would love to be in the room with a book club that would read this and actually seriously discuss questions like "Do Billy and Nina learn anything valuable about each other while snooping that they might not have learned by talking to each other?" No, wait, I wouldn't want to be in that room. No. I'd sooner shave my nuts with a rusty chainsaw.

In short, The Dog Walker is a hilarious and heartwarming tale of a single woman's quest for fulfillment. It is about living, loving, and learning. Please everyone rush out now and buy this book for yourself, your friends, and your Mom. Thanks and good night.

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