Book review: 'I Thought You Were Dead' by Pete Nelson
Bizarreness aside, the lure of reading the novel of a man and his relationship with his critically elder dog named Stella, who is a main character in the love story — and did I mention a conversing character in “I Thought You Were Dead” — gains momentum mid-novel, in full speed, keeping this reader up until the wee hours of morning to finish.
It’s difficult to imagine author Pete Nelson would be able to keep the doggie dialog going with the novel’s main human character, Paul, chapter after 30th chapter. Actually, he doesn’t. He gets a short break when Paul leaves his apartment in Northampton, Mass., to visit his father in Minneapolis, who is recuperating from a stroke.
For the reader, this is where the writing picks up in interest, with family and relationship issues that surface, and the beginning of Paul’s self-discovery. By the time Paul’s issues come to light, Stella’s influence becomes more acceptable — and welcome in a sort of alter ego character way. Without Stella guiding Paul to make better choices in life and leading him in the process of self-evaluation, Paul would remain stuck in his negative life situation.
Although there are a few setbacks, it is those obstacles that propel the reader forward, and the dialog of a dog becomes something craved. We should all have a Stella to help us cope with struggles throughout life, and for the readers who own a pet, it’s easy to get lost in the fantasy that a dog can actually offer feedback and give advice.
Sickened by Paul’s habit of frequenting a local bar, Stella says, “I’ll roll on dead carp, I’ll even eat cat turds, but that place grosses me out.” Stella knows Paul better than he knows himself, and her greatest gift to Paul is teaching him to let go.
The stark title relates to the fact that “Stella had no sense of permanence and therefore assumed Paul was dead whenever he was out of sight, hearing or smell,” as Nelson writes in page four. It is my opinion that Nelson’s title doesn’t work, but fortunately, his writing does, and he’s got a unique spin on situations that might otherwise bore an audience.
How his life unravels and shifts is an amazing transformation Nelson expertly portrays with a story that gives his readers the distinct feel as witnesses.