Odd title, yes? But I Thought You Were Dead by Pete Nelson isn’t a horror story. It refers to what Stella the dog thinks whenever her owner leaves for the day. Until Paul returns, she thinks he’s dead.

She does more than think this, though. Stella talks. Yes, a talking dog. You’d think this would make for a stupid book, but somehow, it works.

Paul is a writer for the Morons books – a fictional version of “for Dummies” or “Complete Idiot’s” guide series. He’s painted himself into a corner: he doesn’t make much money, doesn’t seem thrilled with his job. He’s divorced, and his favorite bar is a dive where the locals hang out to get drunk together. He’s dating a woman who splits her time between him and another boyfriend. Then his dad has a stroke. He’s a sad sack, and his one constant respite is Stella the talking dog.

It’s not like Stella talks to other people. She only talks to Paul. This isn’t such a huge stretch. I talk to my dog, Emily, all the time. She doesn’t talk back, of course, but I sometimes ask her questions that are too big to keep lodged in my head, and, yes, I wonder what she would say if she could talk. No person is in my presence as much as my dog. I’m sure she’d have some observations if she had Stella-like abilities.
I Thought You Were Dead is a sweet, sad story. I read most of it yesterday while recovering from a race. Since I had to work in the area the next day (today), I stayed at a hotel and my mom watched the dog. But I found myself reaching out to pet Emily while reading the book. I wonder what she’d say about that.

I’m feeling a bit like a sad sack myself, so this book came along at the right time. I’m reading a lot more fiction lately, too. Maybe it’s because I’m on bad news overload and worry about the economy, the environment, whether or not I can keep things going in this writing career. I’ve had the same must-read non-fiction book on my to-read list for a month, but I can’t bring myself to it. Fiction as a respite? Maybe. I’ll ask Emily what she thinks.

P.S. A note about the marketing: The press release tucked inside the book made a big deal about how much indie booksellers loved the book. It’s why I tucked it into my suitcase this weekend. Whoever came it with that strategy – IT WORKED.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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