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Nose Down, Eyes Up
Date of Review: 
Published Work: 
Publisher's Weekly , Booklist and Kirkus
Publisher's Weekly, Booklist and Kirkus

Gil is a bit of a schlub. Nearing 50, he lives rent-free as a handyman in an elderly couple’s Los Angeles vacation home. His girlfriend, Sara, works as an animal communicator. Consequently, he can now understand all four of his dogs and is surprised to discover that the alpha dog, Jimmy, has been giving informative lectures to the neighborhood dogs about such topics as begging faces, edible shoes, and peeing
inside versus outside. A chance meeting with Gil’s ex leads to his accepting a job remodeling her guesthouse, and Jimmy begs to be brought along. Soon Gil finds himself moving uncomfortably closer to his ex and further away from Jimmy, and it’s only when things get rough that Gil and Jimmy begin to reconsider the meaning of family. Markoe’s satire is right-on, even if, as often happens in real life, the dogs are more interesting than their owners. Dog-crazy or otherwise, every reader will find much to
contemplate and laugh at in this story about human and animal nature, furry or not.
— Hilary Hatton

Jimmy, the canine star of Merrill's second fun-loving doggie novel (after Walking in Circles Before Lying Down), is the Tony Robbins of the dog world and holds informal seminars with the neighborhood dogs to instruct them in the art of manipulating their human masters (the key, he intones, is nose down, eyes up). Jimmy's poochly wisdom—spot-on and hilarious throughout—is made available courtesy of his owner, Gil, an unlucky in love handyman who learns how to communicate with dogs. This launches the novel's plot, as Gil shoots down Jimmy's idea that he is Gil's biological son. Soon, Jimmy is intent on meeting his birth mother, who happens to belong to Gil's now-remarried ex-wife. A series of setbacks beset the duo, and the tribulations provide lessons in life, love and finding happiness. The conversations with the wry, wise and lovable Jimmy (and his three other oddball dog pals) comprise the novel's heart and comedic through-line—discourse ranges from business matters to why dogs pee so many times during walks. Markoe's hilarious dialogue should be a must-read for dog lovers.

In Markoe’s latest comic novel (Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, 2006, etc.), a 47-year-old California dude learns some life lessons—mostly from his pet.
Handyman/housesitter Gil has come to terms with his lack of ambition. And why not? He has the run of a Malibu estate when the owners are away and a casual relationship with hippie Sara, and the time always seems right for a beer. To top it off, Gil has just acquired an interesting skill: He can communicate with his dogs. The how and why of this miracle is quickly passed over, but never mind, because by page seven the four dogs are full-blown characters. Much of the novel’s comedy comes from alpha dog Jimmy, who gives the equivalent of Tony Robbins’ self-actualizing seminars to neighborhood pooches. On love, Jimmy holds forth: “It’s the big emotion behind snack time…It’s the reason why someone will take you for a walk.” So enlightening is his lecture “Edible or Inedible?” that Gil begins a blog for Jimmy. But Jimmy’s newfound fan base means nothing. He is reeling from the discovery that Gil is not his biological father and demands to meet his birthmother Gypsy, now living with Gil’s ex-wife Eden. Gil is all about maintaining the status quo, but everything changes when he has to move out of his house for a few weeks. Sara thinks this will be a perfect time for them to improve their relationship (couples counseling is involved), but after a few claustrophobic days he moves into Eden’s guesthouse, hired by her new husband Chad to renovate the place. Sara is livid; Jimmy is thrilled to be back with his “real” family; Chad makes Gil his new confidant; and the slightly evil Eden convinces Gil that conjugal rights extend to exes. It’s only when catastrophe hits that Gil begins to admit what a screw-up he’s been and hopes it’s not too late to save everything he loves.

An amusing work, improved by the irresistible talking dogs.