When the novelist Jenna Blum’s dog, a black lab named Woodrow, was approaching the final years of his life, she realized she wanted to write about him. “I knew while Woodrow was in the final chapter that I probably was going to write about him because it was the best way that I knew to cope, and also the best way that I knew to honor him,” she said, adding that she hoped to also honor the community of people who grew up around her and Woodrow. “I just thought it was such an extraordinary thing, to have this old dog become the nucleus of this impromptu community that came together with such goodwill.”
In “Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog” (Harper) Blum recalls the ups and downs of life with an aging dog — everything from frightening dashes to Angell Memorial to the peaceful days they spent together on a park bench on the Commonwealth Mall, greeting friends and strangers who wanted a visit with Woodrow. Blum referred to the lab, a handsome charmer, as “the George Clooney of dogs.”
But we all know how this story ends. When Woodrow died, at 15, Blum decided to write from the heart about the shattering grief she felt. “I was crying so much when I wrote that final chapter,” she said. “There was a part when I was crying so hard that I couldn’t see. The challenge was simply to tell what happened as clearly and honestly and accurately as possible. It involved a level of naked truthfulness that I never attempted in fiction.”
Blum wanted to capture not only the loss but the gifts. “What Woodrow taught me in the end is that love doesn’t just come in the form of romantic relationships or parent relationships or relationships with children,” she said, “it comes from communities, from neighbors, from friends, and it definitely comes from dogs.”
Blum will be reading at 6 p.m. Tuesday at an in-person event at Woodrow’s favorite bench, on the B-C block of the Commonwealth Mall. Dogs are welcome! Rain date: Nov. 1.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.