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Hamptons Life

Dec 1, 2017 5:04 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Book Review: 'All My Dogs' Is Touching And Fascinating

Dec 4, 2017 10:45 AM

Bill Henderson is a phenomenon in the world of publishing.

He is the founder of the Pushcart Press and editor of the Pushcart Prize Series. Though the Pushcart Press has never been a commercial success, it has approached the 40-year mark, and it continues to win accolades from people who care about literature. There are more than 600 small presses that contribute work for the Pushcart Prize.

Mr. Henderson—who divides his time between East Hampton and Sedgwick, Maine—is the founder of the Lead Pencil Club, a loose aggregate of writers and curmudgeons who cast a cold eye on all things digital. He edited and published a collection of their writings, “The Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club.”

Mr. Henderson is the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award as well as the Poets & Writers/ Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award.

He is one of the best memoirists writing today, often referring to his religious obsessions, as in his previous books, “The Tower” and “Cathedral.” The book under review today is “All My Dogs” (The Pushcart Press, paperback, $15, 145pp). In it he chronicles his life through the dogs he has owned. His dogs are his friends, his children, his emotional support system. He and his family are complete only when there is a dog present.

He begins his book with Trixie, his childhood dog. He played indoor fetch with her jumping from the sofa to the floor. Trixie died shortly after his father’s death, but before Trixie died he acquired yet another dog, Duke. “Duke had his own agenda,” Mr. Henderson writes, “snaring pheasants and rabbits. In this he was defeated daily. … (Trixie preferred to hunt indoors and avoided the exertion of the fields. …)” Then, as it happened, Duke died after the death of his mother. Mr. Henderson went on after that for 20 dogless years.

“In the years when I was dogless,” he says,” I had no true home. In the golden dog days, I found family again. … This then is a book about dogs but also about family, marriage, and the birth of a wonderful child. Most of all it is about love and about how love finds us and how lucky we are when it does.”

In the course of his lifetime, Mr. Henderson had a total of 13 dogs: “My dogs have been called Trixie, Duke, Snopes, Ellen, Rocky, Sophie, Charlie, Airport, Opie, Lulu, Max, St. Francis of Assisi (Franny), and Sedgwick: from the time I was a boy to my present perspective they were all sizes, shapes. breeds, and mixes. With them, through them, and beside them I have grown from a five-year-old boy to my present perspective.”

Some dogs were difficult, others were a joy. Some were attached to his wife, Annie or his daughter, Holly. But there was one who had a very special place in his heart. This was Lulu. Lulu was his soulmate, playful, sensitive and loving. She accompanied him while he was building his tower and his cathedral. Both buildings he has chronicled in previous books. (His structures were identified by his wife, Annie, as the fruit of his “edifice complex.”)

Lulu found no fault in them or in him. She was the epitome of devotion. Misfortune, however, struck them both simultaneously. Both came down with breast cancer at the same time. Lulu was stoic, Mr. Henderson less so. But when Mr. Henderson was depressed, Lulu would sit next to him at the end of the day and lick his hand.

“All My Dogs” is as touching and fascinating as all the other volumes in his series of memoirs. In all likelihood, you’ll be wiping a tear from your eye.

A delightful addition to the book are the illustrations of his dogs by Leslie Moore, some taken from life and others from photographs.

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