By Elsa Watson. Tom Doherty Associates. $7.99 paperback.
It’s amazing what theatrics a lightning strike and two shots from an animal-control officer’s taser gun can produce.
This 344-page romp from a Bainbridge Island author is wrapped around Woofinstock, Madrona’s (fictitious Washington town) annual dog festival and drastically changing personalities of a woman (Jessica Sheldon) and stray dog (Zoe), produced first by a storm and later by two flashes of light from a weapon.
Both incidents result in the pair swapping bodies and getting a whole, new perspective on life. Beforehand, Jessica, with a deep fear of dogs was known as the town’s “No. 1 dog hater” stemming from an incident a year earlier. But when she rescues Zoe, a white German shepherd, one night on a Madrona street, the two find themselves inextricably linked in ways that are difficult to imagine.
Shortly after Jessica comes upon the dog, the two are struck by lightning and when they awaken, they find themselves in switched bodies and grappling to find comfort in their new roles. For Jessica, a co-owner of a café in town, her chief worry is saving it from financial ruin. Conversely, Zoe savors life in the human community and the contest challenges of Woofinstock.
And what would this breezy read be without a little romance thrown in between Jessica and the town veterinarian Dr. Max, the most eligible bachelor in Madrona who admits to dog Jessica that he has real liking for person Jessica before he discovers they are one and the same.
For Jessica and Zoe, their out-of-body experiences trigger an intoxicating blend of creativity from Watson. For instance, human being Zoe says, “Being a person is so much more than having thumbs and being tall and eating what you want. I didn’t know all that before – now that I do, I don’t think I like it. If I have to stay human, I’ll never get to sniff around a fire hydrant to get all the canine news, or take long naps in the sun, or shake water all over people when I’m wet. . . . I want to be a dog again.”
Dog Jessica adds her input later, “Did she (Zoe) really think people were the ones that needed pity, and that dogs had it all figured out? Well, maybe they did. After all, dogs had managed things so that they didn’t have to work, or pay mortgages, or wade through health insurance options. They spent their days snoozing on the couch. Sure, maybe they had to wake up to bark at something or take a walk, but all in all, they had it pretty good. Maybe she was right, maybe dogs were smarter than people.”
Part of dog Jessica’s angst is her inability to deal with the financial challenges of her Glimmerglass Café during the busy Woofinstock week as Zoe has no clue how to cope with the complexity of the issues facing the business. Zoe, too, has problems of her own, namely finding her people and returning home, which she ultimately does, with unsatisfying results.
But reader beware: You must stay tightly focused throughout as both characters’ voices are constantly changing. At the outset in their new bodies, it is easy. But as the plot opens and expands, put your best paw forward and focus, focus, focus.
The only real drama ahead of the reader is trying to figure out how the two will untangle their roles and revert back into their own skin, if ever. I won’t ruin that for you here.
Four feet or two feet, huge differences in the body’s senses and the author’s compelling pathways of eclectic characters and engaging scenarios add up to a lighthearted, flavorful read with a nice Puget Sound twist.