Yesterday, I took a sick day. I was legitimately feeling terrible, but I have a really hard time NOT doing something. Sure, I can stay home from work, but I’m still going to answer work emails all day. I can also stay in bed, but I’m probably going to set up some sort of command central where I can reach my cell phone and computer at all times. I’m also going to make lots of lists about the things that I would like to do. Then, when the sun comes in through the window and illuminates the dust on the dresser that I haven’t noticed, you’d better believe I’m getting up to clean it. Luckily (for me, not so much for him) Jason was off work yesterday, so he stayed home with me. He put up with my complaining for a while, then he finally set up up outside (it was like, 70 degrees yesterday!), handed me a book, and told me to stay put. After some eye-rolling, I settled in and started Jerusalem Gap.
T.R. Pearson’s novel is only 136 pages long. It was the perfect sick-day book to read. The little novel tells the story of a divorced man living in the Shenandoah Valley who seems to be trying to disappear. He’s almost like a transplant from an Ernest Hemingway novel: he’s quiet, stoic, in touch with nature, and cut off emotionally. The novel opens as he stands on the side of the road, tinkering with his truck to try to get it to start, when a Chevy Nova pulls up and dumps out a mangy-looking collie. The man puts the dog in his truck with the intention of taking it to the pound. Then, the way she looks at him and sleeps on her back with all four legs straight up in the air gets to him, and they never make it to the pound. He names her Nova.
For such a short novel, Jerusalem Gap packs a punch that is often missing from novels 5 times as long. It’s a touching story of the everyday life of a man and his dog, for the short while that they have together. Nova helps the man meet people that he wouldn’t have otherwise met, and she plays an important role in finding a woman lost from a nursing home. Together, Nova and her owner discover a place called Jerusalem Gap, a forgotten graveyard where a yellow orchid grows wild. Nova brings the man back to life, and he loves her the way you can only love a dog.
The cast of characters certainly bears mentioning. From the vet who plays a cello in his shed in his spare time, to the “cow man” who only ever wants to talk about the weather, to Agatha, the woman who calls our man “Mr. Prickly,” to the zebra that is inexplicably kept behind the vet’s office, this novel is full of characters that make the story sing. They’re all charmed by Nova, and in turn by her owner.
As you can imagine, this story ends like most dog stories do. It’ll always be cruel that dogs don’t live as long as people. This story is even more heartbreaking because Nova and the man only have a little more than a year together. If you’re a dog person like me, this book is for you. It’s My Dog Skip and Old Yeller and Lassie all wrapped into one. You can read it in an afternoon, and I hope you will. (With tissues close by, you’ll need them.)