Are you ready to hear the unkindest thing I’ve ever said about Eileen Myles? It’s coming. But first: I’m not that interested in Myles’ dog, the subject of her latest book, Afterglow (A Dog Memoir), which I read on an airplane and which I’m sure is going to give me weird dreams about dogs and puppets.
I’m skeptical of the “dog memoir” genre entirely, and skeptical of this one in particular. (There’s the unkind thing! I’m sorry, Eileen Myles! I tried!) Reading about other people’s dogs is a bit like listening to someone describe a dream they’ve had when you just wanted to refill your water cup at work, or that awkward moment when a friend, in response to finding out you haven’t seen a movie they adore, painstakingly offers up the entire plot, or listening to a new parent talk about “angel smiles.”
Here’s the thing about dogs: I love them, and I am entirely sure my intelligence plummets whenever I am in the presence of one. If you don’t believe me, just listen closely next time you spend time with dog owners. Mere days ago, a giant St. Bernard sidled up to me in a coffee shop and I was briefly convinced I had somehow been spiritually anointed—how else to explain such a gift? I could not stop talking about how Penelope was “such a nice dog.” I am basically a levelheaded person, but I become a blithering dummy when faced with so much as a moment of attention from a soft, wet-nosed creature. Don’t even get me started on dogs that like to shake hands! Would you like me to walk your dog? I will!
See? The basic glee that comes with fawning over a dog has a rare purity. But if I’m freaking out about your kind good special soft doggo, I am not in my sharpest emotional state. I am, for all intents and purposes, conveniently abandoning my intelligence for a brief, reptile-brain reaction to cuteness.
This is no vantage point from which to write a book, though I fear many people have. I just did not expect Eileen Myles, arbiter of gender-fucking literary cool, to be one of them. And honestly, I expect better from Myles, who is a human institution of punk-rock ethos and unruly prose poetry, beloved by every avant-leaning professional woman writer I know. But I suppose even our idols screw up sometimes, and alas, she has done This Thing.
So let’s talk about it. The subject of Afterglow is a dog named Rosie, now deceased, with whom Myles shared her itinerant life, and describes using odd, associative framing devices, including a dream puppet show and a letter from her dog’s lawyer. Afterglow’s been blurbed prestigiously, but I found it to be quite a mess of a book. Much of Myles’ work is intentionally messy, but I have often found sharpness and humor in her large blocks of run-on-sentence text. I did not find much of that here. It is simply not that interesting to listen to someone talk about their dog, even if that someone is Eileen Myles.
And here, then, is the real rub: Myles is at a point in her career when, with enough books and notoriety secured and enough of an iconoclast reputation in place, she can basically do whatever she wants. This is a dangerous stage for a writer to be in, because it doesn’t often foster great work. Constraints can be wonderful tools! A desire to prove oneself can make the work more interesting! The urgency of the emerging writer is something to love and appreciate! But the complacency of status is what leads to things like Patti Smith writing a book all about how much she loves coffee, and to Eileen Myles’ book about a dog. You’re better off revisiting Myles’ previous works. Chelsea Girls was reprinted in 2015. Start with that.
Afterglow (A Dog Memoir)
by Eileen Myles