Amanda Boyden's "I Got the Dog" Is a Gripping Tale of Love, Loss, and Transformation

Novelist Amanda Boyden's luminous new book I Got the Dog: A Memoir of Rising will make your heart soar

Novelist Amanda Boyden's new memoir I Got the Dog treats the stuff of life - the pleasures of childhood, the overwhelming shock of a brutal assault and its aftermath, the joy of marriage and the ache of its dissolution, the immense expenditure of energy it takes to rise, phoenix-like, from the flames - in an emotionally stunning and endlessly inventive fashion. Candid, judiciously observed, it stands head and shoulders above the common run of contemporary memoirs.

Part of this stems from her loving family and her loving and slightly unusual family. Her younger sister Meg has had an otherworldly awareness since she was wee. And Amanda was a natural gymnast, climbing up door frames, tumbling and flipping her way to competing at the nationals.

This eventually led to her becoming a trapeze artist and, on occasion, parachuting from planes. She was, she notes, "forever chasing a chance to fly of my own volition."

What an apt metaphor. Boyden is perpetually in search of the transformative. She sought it modeling in Paris, attending art school, working any number of colorful jobs - all grist for her writing. Putting words on the page turns out to be her best and most complete way of leaving the ground, of attaining flight.

We recognize ourselves in these portions of her life - we've all sought the freedom of risk and adventure. But in the chapter of Boyden's book titled "Then with Notes", our identification with her deepens in a raw and unexpected way.

"Then with Notes" is an astonishing retelling of a brutal rape that occurred in 1991. Boyden juxtaposes an account written shortly after the event with the thoughts and reflections that arose in the writing of I Got the Dog. She deftly accomplishes a gutsy literary feat - setting the two versions side-by-side conveying both the assault itself and how time and experience have reframed it.

This overlay of two times, two selves - then and now - illuminates how that assault still resonates today. Time touches back. Time reaches forward. And though Boyden has assimilated the experience, its mark will never leave her.

You can buy I Got the Dog on Amazon here.

Notions of memory flow through the entire book, how it haunts, how it consoles, how it vanishes. Loss, too, is a primary subject - a beautiful high school friend and Canadian singer-songwriter Gord Downie both die within a month of each other just as the Boyden marriage was starting to come apart.

Boyden was married to the well-known (and highly controversial) Canadian writer Joseph Boyden. They met as grad students at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop and shared, for a time, a powerful creative partnership, working on books and screenplays and serving as each other's first reader.

In the Summer when "Joseph hadn't yet been completely decimated on social media" the couple - both authors of bestselling books - were visiting Amanda's sister Meg. "When we weren't outside playing, we were inside voraciously reading and brainstorming on a potential television series."

Though it sounds idyllic, everything came crashing down within hours when Amanda's sister Meg - now a psychic medium - suddenly asked, "who's having the baby?" With this shocking question, the book really kicked in for me, grabbing my attention and never letting go until the final word.

Amanda and Joseph Boyden

Unquestionably talented, Joseph Boyden had neither descended from First Nation Canadians nor was he capable of fidelity. His betrayals and the disintegration of their marriage is as riveting as it must have been heart-rending to live through.

Boyden is remarkably even-handed in dealing with the mess and chaos of a dissolving marriage, never taking cheap shots or indulging in spiteful recrimination.

You can buy I Got the Dog on Amazon here.

Reading this kind of life story will drive one to the backlist. Lucky for you, Boyden has two novels to dive into, Pretty Little Dirty (Vintage - 2006) and the international bestseller, Babylon Rolling (Pantheon - 2008).

But back to I Got the Dog. The eponymous dog is . . . Fritz Friday Boyden, or Fry, the rescue Chihuahua Boyden claimed when her marriage ended. In truth, Boyden got more than the dog, she got her whole life back. By seeking the root causes and tracing the path of that life in this memoir, she reclaims it as completely her own.

There is much to learn from - and much to enjoy - in Boyden's stellar account of flying, falling, and rising . . . to fly again.

You can buy I Got the Dog on Amazon here.

Amanda Boyden is the author of two novels, Pretty Little Dirty and the international bestseller Babylon Rolling. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Maclean's, Globe and Mail, Sonora Review, and others. The recipient of Nerve.com's Henry Miller Award for Best Literary Sex Scene in Pretty Little Dirty, she lives in New Orleans with her rescue Chihuahua, Fry.

Read more about I Got the Dog here.

Margaret Caliente is a professional athlete turned internet entrepreneur and Manhattan-based journalist.

You can buy I Got the Dog on Amazon here.

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