Pretzel, Houdini, & Olive: Essays on the Dogs of My Life

Told from the perspective of a self-identified “crazy dog lady,” these eleven interconnected essays follow one woman’s relations with five different dogs. Together, they travel over terrain spanning her husband’s battle with cancer, his death, her grieving process, and her rejoining the living as her dogs lead her forward from the other end of their leashes. Alongside her personal story, she considers such cultural issues as Americans’ unhealthy relationships with the natural world, ageism across species, Third World poverty and First World privilege, hoarding, and the meaning of happiness. This is not a sentimental “who-rescued-whom?” book about the healing power of animals. Instead, it explores one representative human’s relationships with dogs, with all their joys but also their frustrations, neuroses, and downright craziness.


Woven through these evocative memoir essays are the dogs of grief and joy—and of Kolkata. Street dogs and spirit dogs. Rescue dogs that we hope might rescue us. Dogs of myth and history. Daily dogs whose fur we can touch. After the loss of her partner, Rajiv, Debby Thompson found herself unprepared for what she calls “the animal part of loss,” the way “skin cries” for contact. In these stories—gritty, visionary, and heartbreaking—are the dogs of this world, the dogs of life, the dogs of now and of now-let’s-go!—Veronica Patterson, author of Sudden White Fan

In an intoxicating mix of myth and story, natural history, science, and memoir, Thompson cooks up a masterful exploration of the human bond with dogs. Rolling in the wake of unspeakable grief after the loss of her partner to cancer, she turns to one of the other constants in her life—the love of a good dog or a dumb dog or, really, almost any dog because the operative word there is “love,” that unconditional wet-nosed bodily kind of love that sustains us and gets Thompson out of bed every morning, the love that keeps her mind moving and keeps her alive as she writes her way out of the deep holes left by loss. Required reading for anyone who has lost someone and loved a dog—which is nearly everyone.—Steven Church, author of I’m Just Getting to the Disturbing Part: On Work, Fear, and Fatherhood

A blue cover with three dogs in the middle and white script at the bottom that reads Pretzel Houdini and Olive essays of the dogs of my life by Deborah Thompson.

Deborah Thompson

Publication Date: September 15, 2020

Genre/Imprint: Memoir, Red Hen Press

$13.95 Tradepaper

Shop: Red Hen, Bookshop, Barnes & Noble

ISBN: 978-1-59709-856-4