For Hope McNeill, pugs are love, unconditional friendship, happiness, and freedom. She doesn't have one of her own (busy life, tiny apartment), but she does have Pug Hill in Central Park, where pugs (and their owners) from all over New York convene.
She also has a crush on one of her co-workers, a flailing romantic relationship, and an unspeakable fear of public speaking. Then Hope's father calls with an assignment: to make a speech at her parents' anniversary party. Frantic, she signs up for a public speaking class, but can't help wondering-will it transform her into an eloquent orator? Maybe some fears are so big that even all the pugs in the world might not be enough to assuage them.
Alison Pace has mastered her niche as an author: fun, lighthearted stories that include neurotic main characters who possess an endearing love for dogs. This is my second reading of Pug Hill and it is by far my favorite of Pace's novels because, well, like Hope, I understand that pugs are love and happiness. When Hope feels most hopeless, her go-to happy place is pug hill. The people in her life don't understand her obsession with it, and despite her incredibly neurotic, sometimes downright annoying, tendencies, I completely get this facet of her personality. And even if you as the reader don't get that pugs are love, the way that Pace describes Hope's encounters with them, you can't help but understand why this is her happy place.When you read passages like this, you will be sure to plaster a smile on your face so big that your face will hurt:
"Eustice!" someone yells from a few feet to my right. An extremely, let's say, girthy pug, in a gray turtleneck sweater, comes bounding up the hill. His tongue hangs out to the side, the way so many tongues of so many pugs seem to like to do, and he's panting very loudly; I can hear the panting, accompanied by some intermittent snorting even before he gets close, even before he heads in a beeline right past his owner and right toward me.
"Well hello, Eustice," I say very encouragingly and very enthusiastically at his arrival. He looks up at me, and very politely hoists his tongue up and licks the foam from his pug nose. And the way he does it, everything about him, makes me smile so completely. I say next what makes most sense, "Thank you Eustice." With a jerking motion, he moves his whole body to the side throws back his head and turns around, and just like that, he's off. (165)
What Alison Pace did so perfectly, in just a few short paragraphs, was describe the mannerisms of a pug in such a way that you almost feel like you're in the presence of one - or even better, that you want to get one for yourself. And despite whether you think they're the most adorable dog or the most hideous dog, you can't help but smile when there are pugs around.
As a pug lover, the title and overwhelming cuteness of the cover is what initially drew me to the book, but Pace's fun, jaunty writing style is what kept me reading, and what inevitably drew me to some of her other books.
I'm not going to lie. This book is total chick lit. There will undoubtedly be people who read this book and feel frustrated at how neurotic and self-centered the main character is. Not to mention how neatly the book ends. And I would normally be one of those critics. I'm one who likes books to end neatly, but not so neatly that it feels contrived. In the hands of a less dexterous author, the ending would have felt contrived. But with Pace's deft writing style and commitment to seeing the growth of her protagonist, this story works and just makes you feel good all over. A highly recommended title for anyone who needs to be jolted out of a funk from reading books full of grave, heavy-handed prose.
And, better still, if you loved the first installment of Pug Hill, Pace has written a sequel set to be released on June 7th called A Pug's Tale.
And coming soon, Alison Pace will be joining me here on the blog for an interview to talk about her new novel.
Pug Hill by Alison Pace
Published: May 2006 by Berkley Trade
Genre: Realistic fiction/chick lit
Audience: Adults (pug lovers!)