Walking in Circles Before Lying Down

Walking in Circles Before Lying Down

by Merrill Markoe


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Dawn Tarnauer’s life isn’t exactly a success story. Already twice divorced, the young Californian is too busy job-hopping to start a career, her current boyfriend insists on living “off the grid,” her Life Coach sister perpetually interferes with incomprehensible affirmations, her eccentric mother is busy promoting the culmination of her life’s work: The Every Holiday Tree, and her father is ending his brief third marriage while scheduling two dates for the same night.

Dawn’s only source of security and comfort, it seems, is Chuck, a pit-bull mix from the pound. So, when her boyfriend announces that he’s leaving her for another woman, a despairing Dawn turns to Chuck for solace.
“I should have said something sooner,” Chuck confides, as he tries to console her. “Couldn’t you smell her on his pants?” Dawn is stunned. It’s one thing to talk to your pets, but what do you do when they start talking back? It’s not just Chuck, either; she can hear all dogs–and man’s best friend has a lot to say. The ever-enthusiastic Chuck offers his tried-and-true advice on the merits of knocking over garbage and strewing it everywhere, auxiliary competitive peeing etiquette, and the curative powers of tossing a ball. Doubtful of her own sanity, Dawn considers that, in the ways of life and love, it might be better to trust Chuck’s doggie instincts instead of her own.

Filled with sharp wit, biting humor, and canine conversation that would make Doctor Dolittle’s jaw drop, Merrill Markoe’s engaging, cleverly written novel is about the confusing search for love and the divine acts of dog.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812975468
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/28/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 553,079
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Emmy Award—winning writer Merrill Markoe has authored three books of humorous essays and the novel It’s My F—-ing Birthday, as well as co-authoring (with Andy Prieboy) the novel The Psycho Ex Game. She has worked as a radio host and a TV correspondent, and has written for television, movies, and a delightful assortment of publications. She lives in Los Angeles, if you can call that living.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Remember to Write from Your Unique Perspective

I think one of the things that makes me unique is that as far back as I can remember, I have always talked to a lot of things besides people. I found it comforting, a way to prove that I existed. From early childhood on, I was haunted by the feeling that no one could hear me.

I was not without my reasons. My mother, Joyce, demanded and usually got all of whatever attention was available. She was beautiful enough to have stumbled into an accidental modeling career when she was seventeen just by waving at a photographer at the beach. Dressed in her yellow plaid shorts set and a big straw hat, she looked like a cast member of some seldom seen television show greeting smitten fans. A few months later, when her picture turned up in hundreds of inexpensive frames for sale at discount drugstores, it made my mother a local celebrity. Unfortunately, because she’d signed a release and accepted fifty dollars, she never received any more money. But once she realized that people knew who she was, she felt entitled to dominate any gathering, large or small, whether or not she had anything to say. I figured out, early on, that getting a word in edgewise wasn’t going to be in the cards for me. So I became a quiet, obedient kid, good at blending in, easy to overlook. I learned to cope with my need for attention by creating my own private personal rituals to make myself feel special.

As early as second grade, I’d take the phone into the closet when I got home from school and call local radio shows so I could dedicate songs to myself. Then I’d spend hours by the radio, switching from station to station in the hope that at least one deejay would say, “ ‘You Light Up My Life’ by Debbie Boone goes out to the girl who lights up everybody’s life, Dawn Tarnauer.” I never did hear anyone say it, but I kept right on hoping. While I waited, I would pretend to host my own TV show. For guests I would interview whatever was available: my plastic horses, my stuffed animals, my mother’s cat, my chair, my own reflection.

But The Day Everything Changed was the first time that anything ever answered me back.

I was born to the prefeminist version of my mother, a woman with a constantly lit cigarette and a perpetually jiggling leg, bored out of her mind but not sure what to do about it. I think she saw her firstborn much the same way she did her never finished pieces of découpage: as something that needed more work than she had time for. By the time I was five, I had figured out that the fastest way to my mother’s heart was to fetch her cigarettes and tell her everything was going to be okay.

Halley, my sister, was born when I was six. Sometime during that pregnancy, my mother turned into a feminist. She dropped her découpage work (which consisted mainly of hatboxes shellacked with magazine clippings of female faces that looked like her own) in favor of something called “creative breakthrough parenting,” where she learned that she could offset parental neglect through the use of extravagant praise. I remember not quite trusting all her suddenly effusive reinforcement, even finding it kind of embarrassing. But it worked like gangbusters on Halley, who loved hearing that her preschool drawings were “as good as Matisse” and her one-finger piano compositions had the precocious brilliance of a grade school Beethoven. This despite the fact that neither of us really had any idea who those people were.

Of course, now that Halley and I were both effortlessly producing masterworks and our careers in the arts were assured, my mother rationalized that her presence at parent-teacher conferences and school events would be gilding the lily. This was fine with me. I was comfortable living under the radar. But it was different for Halley, who grew up feeling entitled to center stage and wondering why it seemed to elude her. When she auditioned for the seventh-grade play, Miracle on 34th Street, and was cast not as the lead but as one of the two dozen Christmas shoppers, it triggered in her an obsessive desire for a persona that everyone noticed. Soon she was dying her curly brown hair blue black, then red, then blond, and then black with orange streaks. She also started dressing more and more theatrically, favoring oversize round sunglasses, a dark head scarf, and a floor-length faux-fur coat—kind of an unintentional homage to Jackie O at Aristotle’s funeral. But despite her valiant efforts, Halley never succeeded in gaining the moniker she wanted, which would have been something as simple as “the mysterious girl dressed in black.” If the kids remembered to call her anything at all, it was something less mythic and more direct, like “dork.”

In that way, Halley was a chip off the old block. Because as we got older, Joyce, our mother, kept searching endlessly, tirelessly, for her true life’s calling. A new image was usually the first sign that things were about to change. She bounced from long-haired flamenco dancer to short-haired Scientology acolyte to buzz-cut-wearing animal- rights activist who walked picket lines at pet stores, held fund- raisers for rescue organizations, and chained herself to a five- hundred-pound Galápagos tortoise at Marine World. There was always something more pressing for my mother than paying attention to her daughters. It was clear to us that if we demanded too much of her time, it would have to be unfairly stolen from condemned animals. By taking care of ourselves and asking for nothing, we believed we were helping puppies and kittens stay alive.

On the surface, Halley and I probably looked like nice if slightly eccentric girls. Our grades were okay. We weren’t out partying or doing drugs. But on closer inspection, we had constructed a yin and yang of defense mechanisms, neurotic tics, and eating disorders. While I was busy hiding bags of pecan sandies under my bedspread to make sure I was never more than an arm’s length from sugar, just a few feet away Halley was diligently dividing a single package of celery into three days’ worth of meals.

Fortunately, there was a father in residence to help this teeter- tottering family create some stability: Ted Tarnauer, owner and general manager of a small but popular vintage car repair. Ted was very proud of his history as a rockabilly guy from the days of Levi and the Rockats, a glimpse of which could be gotten by scrutinizing the triptych of dusty warped black-and-white photos in plastic frames that hung on the wall by his desk at the shop. Though taken from below stage level so he appeared to be fifteen feet tall and 50 percent nostril, you could still recognize him: the young Ted, his big greasy blond hair swooping into his face, his skinny body curled like a question mark over his guitar, looking handsome and arrogant, sporting a curled-lip sneer that spoke of meth and moonshine. This was Dad’s real passion. He put a lot of time into perfecting the authentic fifties outfits he wore when his band, the Cheaterslicks, played. Even now he was very pleased when girls under forty got crushes on him and was proud when they sometimes said he looked like Brian Setzer. (Though the older ones more often referenced the mature Conway Twitty, which was also fine, but he liked it less.)

Ted was quite the talker. It didn’t take much to launch him into a monologue so impenetrable that his friends worried there might be no bathroom breaks. Yet despite his retro rocker exterior, by middle age Dad had morphed into a right-wing neocon who wrote in Pat Buchanan’s name on ballots where once he had written in Duane Eddy.

From early childhood on, Halley and I worshipped our daddy but were constantly worried that he might leave. We knew he was unhappy. It was hard to miss, since he had a tendency to break down and weep after a couple of beers.

To say nothing of the fact that by the time I was in third grade, I was finding him asleep on the couch in the morning when I left for school. The realization that I couldn’t remember when I’d last seen him in the bedroom with Mom, caused me to lie awake at night, plotting ways to make him happier. As it turned out, homemade greeting cards and blueberry muffins weren’t what his life was missing. He left our home for good when I was ten.

Less than a month after he moved out he announced his intention to marry a woman from the neighborhood whose car he’d remodeled. It was unnerving that she looked enough like my mother to be her sister. The nuptials, which took place a few months after that, were a big festive event with a meticulous, if somewhat desperate, retro fifties theme full of hoop skirts, pegged pants, and Jell-O molds. The Cheaterslicks played. Everybody danced the Lindy hop.

The following day at school, I had my first asthma attack.

From that point forward, the only time I could count on seeing my dad was when each of his new romances imploded. Then he’d reappear with bribes for us in exchange for helping him pack. “I got some more cool stuff for you,” he’d say, revealing a box of things he took out of the cars he got from salvage: pencils, reading glasses, comic books that were missing a cover, gloves with the fingers stuck together, bobble-headed Dodgers. “You girls take whatever you want,” he’d say, “but first do Daddy a favor and stuff those Road and Tracks into that black gym bag.”

By my late teens, I was tall and blond and tan from swimming, running, surfing, and riding my bike. I was in good enough shape to wear a bikini without flinching. Even though my grades were all B’s and A’s, I was an insecure mess. When I think back to that period, I see myself as kind of the flip side to the Girl from Ipanema. Because although I was getting my share of attention from the opposite sex, I remember a lot more people saying “Jesus Christ, Dawn! Are you nuts?” than going “Aaaah.” Like when I decided to get married right out of high school to someone I barely knew, in an unintentional homage to my parents.

In keeping with the Tarnauer family tradition, my first husband, Neil, was domineering, helpless, and prone to spontaneous bursts of theatrical emotion. Like Dad, Neil was equal parts in love with his own dramas and the selfless way I offered rapt attention.

When I met him, I was working the midmorning shift at the Lunch Box in Simi Valley, the only job I could find when I graduated from high school. I was feeling anonymous, directionless, and at a loss when Neil and his big, big plans appeared one day like a door to a world of limitless possibilities. Neil was fourteen years my senior and knowledgeable about lots of things: the stock market, the environment, politics, civil law, filmmaking. We got married at City Hall a month after we started dating and moved to a two-room apartment in his hometown of Fresno, where, he claimed, his connections would work to our advantage.

The plan was for us both to get jobs, pool our money, and produce a series of documentaries about the deadly fungus endangering the health of many species of frogs. With Neil’s knowledge and my energy and support, we were poised to accomplish great things. Right up until the day Neil got a job tending bar at the Scoreboard, a sports bar downtown. He quickly became so enamored of his new role as the local long-haired authority on absolutely everything that he didn’t even notice when our dreams of glory began to die on the vine.

Without them, it became harder for me to ignore the fact that sex with Neil reminded me of being in bed with one of those waving mechanical Santas that department stores put in their Christmas windows: every move, every word, always the same, and in the exact same order. This unfortunate set of associations would have been less distracting if I hadn’t noticed one night that his moans of passion sounded a lot like “Ho-ho-ho.”

By year three, about the same time I was giving up

hope in general, I found a large black-and-white Labrador- Newfoundland mix, abandoned at the market. He was about eight years old, the vet thought, and seemed to be in good health. No one knew why someone had tied him to the shopping cart return and just left him there. He didn’t bite. He didn’t cry. He didn’t pee in the house. He was very affectionate. He knew “sit” and “down.” The only other information available was that he was wearing a red collar from which hung a small round silver tag that had been engraved with a single word: Swentzle. Assuming it was his last name, I conducted an exhaustive search through local phone books for his owner. I even put up posters featuring his picture under block letters that read, “FOUND. HEY EVERYBODY! LOOK! IT’S SWENTZLE!!” No one called.

By the fourth day he was following me everywhere, greeting people no matter what their circumstances, like some kind of dazed goodwill ambassador. Just as tickled to meet someone new at the scene of an accident as he would have been if they climbed in through the window in the middle of the night, Swentzle was democracy in action. The most amazing thing was that once Swentzle arrived, life with Neil seemed to get better. Swentzle distracted me in the best way possible. Right up until the day that Wayne, the manager of The Scoreboard, informed Neil that the Sacramento County Department of Child Support was planning to “assign” 50 percent of his wages after taxes for child support payments. If I hadn’t walked in on Wayne explaining the whole thing to him, I still wonder if Neil would have ever mentioned it to me.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were married before?” I gasped. “How could you forget to mention you had a kid?”

“Ah, it’s one of those things I’m trying to put behind me,” he said. “I’ve got my doubts the kid is even mine.”

Turned out Neil had never paid a penny of the thousands of dollars in child support he owed to the mother of a seven-year-old boy in Sacramento. She had a pretty good case against him, since Neil had been married to her for six and a half years. I was thunderstruck.

“How many people do you think are going to listen to what we have to say about endangered frogs once they find out you’re a deadbeat dad?” I said.

“Well . . . I figured once our documentary started raking in the bucks, I’d, you know, try to pay her something,” he said.

“I thought all the money we made was going toward helping the frogs,” I said, immediately feeling bad for stiffing some poor underfinanced little kid.

Neil’s solution was for us to buy a school bus and live on the road while we figured out how to raise money.

The next day I took my private stash of ones and fives and the birthday money I’d been wisely hiding in a Tampax box and bought bus tickets back to L.A. for Swentzle and me. At the time, I was filled with shame about running away from a marriage, especially one that everyone warned me wouldn’t work. I hated proving all the naysayers right. But what never really occurred to me was that I was finally taking a step toward turning my life around.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Markoe deftly weaves doggie instinct into an insightful tale that's bound to make you laugh out loud." —-People

Customer Reviews

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Walking in Circles Before Lying Down 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 71 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are looking for a book to make you laugh and smile, this is book is perfect! You don't have to be a dog lover to appreciate this one. A great beach read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Before reading this novel, I had never read a book by this author. I loved the book so much that I am buying all of her other books. She is fantastic at getting into the mind and expressing feelings. Loved the book...Loved the author...Recommend it to all!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great-fast read. Clever & witty, and how can you resist loving the whole idea about Dawn's dog giving her life-advice from a dog's perspective!
bmhafe More than 1 year ago
My husband and I took a trip to Vegas, and this is one of the books I happen to pick up along the way. This book was ingenious in the way it got readers to laugh out loud...I kept having to stop reading and tell my husband what the dog just said..we have 4 English Springers and are constantly wondering what they are thinking. Merril Markoe has shed some light on the inner workings of a dogs mind in a unique and intersting way. If you want a book that makes you laugh, has you cheering, and basically routing for the underdog...this is it!!
ER_RN More than 1 year ago
Will make you laugh, and possibly cry. This story starts off with a complicated mess of a life and introduces you to several colorful characters who are all limping along with their individual coping skills. Well written; the reader is fully engaged and finds it difficult to put down the book and re-enter their own world. After reading this book, I read a couple others by the same author, including the most recent. Don't waste your money. "Walking in Circles" may be this author's only claim to fame. But it's a GREAT READ!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a good read. The title caught my eye...and I was glad I followed up and got the book. I read it in two days. If you want an offbeat, enjoyable read...this is the book for you
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read this book several times, it's just as good every time. I always knew dogs could talk but they're even funnier than I thought!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Good,funny,intertaining,could not put the book down:)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It made me laugh so out loud!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i would recommend this book..very funny with a good message in it about love
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love dogs and i read mature books. Would this be good for a 13 year old?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this. The hilarity of seeing everything through a dog's eyes was fresh. I laughed and laughed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The only glitch to this book was the fact that it would skip a few pages and or be stuck on a page. Sometimes i felt like i was missing parts of the story, which was upsetting because it was a good book and i didnt want to miss a thing!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book so much, I read it in one day! I just couldn't put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In a market saturated with tear jerking dog stories, this book is a fun and welcome change. Told with laugh-out-loud humor, I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a pick-me-up. You don't have to be a dog owner to appreciate this book!
worldsedge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This could've been so much better. And Markoe is probably somebody to watch. But this book goes out of its way to overload the reader with every silly chick lit cliche, and is only partly redeemed with the talking to dogs schtick. The absolute best part of the book is a three or four paragraph outtake of life from a dog's perspective. But I complain about these books and then keep on reading them. So something about them must hold me.
horomnizon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love dogs, so a book about a lady whose dogs talk to her sounded like a pretty good read - and it pretty much was. Not an awesome one, mind you, but an entertaining story with a twist - talking dogs. It is mostly about relationships - family and sexual - and how her dogs help her realize things about the people around her.
smallwonder56 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My favorite of Markoe's books. As the "parent" to two dogs, it's wonderful to hear what dogs are thinking about us and what we do. I've always known they have more sense than I do--Merrill Markoe just proved it to me. A very funny book. I read a lot of it aloud to friends and family.
ladydzura on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I¿m a dog person, so it¿s really no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed Walking In Circles Before Lying Down by Merrill Markoe. I was admittedly surprised by how well the premise ¿ a woman who has been dumped by her boyfriend is suddenly able to understand what her dog is thinking ¿ worked out.After Dawn¿s boyfriend leaves her to pursue a job in another city, she¿s stunned to hear her pit bull, Chuck, consoling her. While at first she thinks she may be crazy, she comes to accept the voice she¿s hearing -¿ which also makes her job a little more interesting, because Dawn works at a dog day care facility, and she can understand all of those dogs, too. Chuck offers his sometimes questionable -¿ he is a dog, after all -- guidance as Dawn attempts to survive her over-helpful sister, her ridiculous mother, the loss of her job, and the return of her sketchy ex-boyfriend.As someone who talks to my dog on a regular basis -¿ and, okay, as someone who has been known to `speak¿ for her dog more than I¿d like to admit -¿ I got such a kick out of this book. Dawn¿s story is told in a stream-of-consciousness, rambly, tangential fashion that could easily have been the most annoying aspect of the book, but Markoe pulled it off wonderfully. (It¿s also possibly that I loved this style so much because I tend to tell stories in the same rambly-type fashion.) And Chuck is one fantastic little canine character. Highly recommended if you're a dog lover or just looking for a fun little read. I'll certainly be looking for more of Merrill Markoe's work.
elliezann on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
amusing little book about a woman with horrible taste in men learning to cope with life from the mouth of her dog, Chuck. Dawn Tarnauerhas two short marriages under her belt and is trying to find and keep #3. Her mother is trying out her new get-rich-quick-scheme with a not too honest new man in her life and her flighty sister,Halley, has become a Life Coach simply because she can't do anything else.Chuck is her new dog who has neuroses of his own,especially his belief that Dawn loved her first dead dog more than him. The difference is Chuck doesn't suffer in silence. he tells Dawn exactly what he thinks and seems utterlt bewildered by human ways.A touching portrait of the bond between man and dog filled with humor and zany characters. A thoroughly enjoyable quick read. You will delight in this author's writing.
Talbin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, by Merrill Markoe, is best characterized as chick lit with talking dogs. Dawn Tarnauer has a dog, Chuck, and a boyfriend, Paxton. When Paxton dumps Dawn, Chuck the dog starts talking to her. Dawn's family is a mess and drives her crazy, but Chuck starts telling Dawn to trust her instincts - and to throw the ball - whenever she's not sure what to do. In the end, everything turns out great for everyone.Sort of a throw-away read - very quick, somewhat humorous, but not all that good. I would've liked a lot more talking dogs and a lot less "romance." I must be getting too old to enjoy this type of book. Geez, I sound like a cranky old lady, but this was really not up my alley. However, in it's defense, Walking in Circles Before Lying Down was well-written and had it's humorous moments.
Jennyonfire on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book very hard to get into. I stuck it out until Chuck started to talk. The best part of this book was the dogs' dialogue. It was endearing and humorous. I hardly at all for any of the characters, finding Dawn to be excruciatingly dense. Paxton was dull and boring. The dog's were the best part of this book. Could care less about the actual plot.
veroamore on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
adorable story about relationship and life counseling by a dog ...
jenn_stringer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cute story about a young woman who begin to hear what her dog is thinking. It you laugh and still hits home as it talks about the dysfunctional characters that populate the book. Enjoyable quick read for dog lovers.
twilightlost_2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was entertained enough with this book to read it in one sitting, but I found myself wishing she would just dump the boyfriend already and hook up with the right guy. Still, a good book for those of use who ever wished that our dogs could talk - and that our families would shut up!