A Big Little Life by Dean Koontz is an unusual memoir. It is full of both the highly fantastic and totally realistic events in the life of a golden retriever named Trixie. Canine Companions for Independence had bred Trixie as an assistance dog, but, after enjoying six months of helping a wheelchair-bound woman, Trixie developed a limp and underwent joint surgery. Shortly before her third birthday, Trixie retired to live with Gerda and Dean Koontz who view their nine years with her as their best. I enjoyed both learning more about famous author Dean Koontz and about the remarkable adventures of the dog who changed his life.
Why do I consider some of the scenarios as fantastic? Consider the opening chapter. In it, Koontz describes one particular night in January when he lied next to Trixie on the floor and told her, “You’re not just a dog. You can’t fool me. I know what you really are…. You’re really an angel.” In response, Trixie scrambled to her feet in alarm, ran down the hall, turned, and stared back at him. Koontz tells readers that it’s the first and last time that she ever wanted distance from him; the matter disturbed Trixie so much, he never pursued it further. Then there was the day when Koontz learned that Trixie had the ability to judge human character better than him. He tells about an individual, named X for anonymity, whom Koontz has known through a business relationship for over ten years. When Trixie first met X, she scampered away so fast that X failed to get a glimpse of her. When she was brought back to meet X, she remained at a distance and even refused to look at X. When Koontz and X later dined at a restaurant, X tried to gain access to the family beach house, and for years to come would try to obtain free books and other privileges. My last example of the implausible is from a night when Gerda and Dean were reading in bed. Trixie suddenly leapt up, ran past their bed, and vanished through the open door into the upstairs hall. When Koontz followed Trixie, he discovered her gazing up at the door to Gerda’s office, as if she were making eye contact with someone. Initially, Trixie refused to respond to Dean, but eventually trotted back to the bedroom and returned to sleep. Koontz tells readers that he’s not a guy who sees ghosts or expects to see one, but he believes that Trixie saw something beyond his normal vision. While I do realize that there are exceptional dogs, some of Trixie’s reactions seem so beyond the norm as to be tall tales.
At the same time, other scenarios make it clear that Trixie was definitely all dog. For example, at one of their houses, a mouse was on the loose. Koontz lined up a series of mousetraps and baited them with cheese, but often the traps would spring on their own and cast bits of cheese to the floor. Guess who kept a watchful eye and snatched up the scattered cheese? Trixie had other food passions too. During one night of indulgence, Gerda and Dean ordered nachos, which caused Trixie to sit beside them with a longing look. Dean offered her corn chips, melted cheese, and even guacamole. Then there was the bathroom issue. While Trixie would allow herself to pee on the family lawn, she refused to do the other stuff within the borders of the Koontz property. One night after Trixie developed an upset stomach, she ran through their house and up their driveway just so that she could defecate off their property. Other ways in which Trixie showed herself as all dog is her love of fetching balls and her distrust of thunderstorms. Although perhaps nothing to do with her being all dog, one of my favorite sections is about how Trixie trains her new family to stop working past five o’clock. Both Gerda and Dean work at home, working as late as seven o’clock in the evening. Within two weeks of her arrival, Trixie began a campaign to change those hours. At five o’clock in the evening, she would start to quietly bark at Dean and then to stare at him with a forlorn look. Koontz gives Trixie credit for changing him in many ways, including learning to take more time to just enjoy life.
When searching for my next dog book to review, I decided on A Big Little Life partly because Andy and I are fans of Dean Koontz. As such, I’ve long heard about Trixie and felt eager to finally learn her story. A Big Little Life also resonated with me because Koontz makes clear how much Trixie changed his life. Indeed, most (if not all) of his better books were written after her arrival. I could say the same for many of my pets. Thanks to my guinea pigs, all of whom are now playing at Rainbow Bridge, I found joy again in telling stories in my thirties. My cat came to me after I got assigned to run a time-out room and provided me with needed comfort. Although I called some accounts of Trixie implausible, I myself consider Lucy an angel cat or gift from God. All of these are pets from my years as an independent adult. The list could be longer. Naturally, being a memoir, A Big Little Life recounts not only the happy moments of life with Trixie but also the sad moment of letting her go. Koontz appropriately titles the chapter about Trixie’s death as “endings always come too fast”. This past spring, I lost my third and last guinea pig after she developed paralysis of her back legs and then succumbed to gastric bloat. Now my husband and I face the reality that we may lose Lucy soon to kidney failure. Although Lucy has been with me since 2006, the time has been far too short and her end will come TOO FAST.
Due to some of its implausible stories, I was often unsure how to feel about A Big Little Life. Ultimately, I found it fascinating to learn a little about the author Dean Koontz. I also greatly appreciated how much love and adoration he clearly felt for his first dog. Now, days after reading the book, many of his reflective thoughts about Trixie (and dogs in general) keep coming back to me. Pet lovers will enjoy A Big Little Life.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
How would you rate this book?