Jennifer Finney Boylan. (Photo Credit: Dan Haar)

“Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs, A Memoir”
by Jennifer Finney Boylan
©2020, Celadon Books
272 pages

Can you name them in chronological order?

The first one might be hard: you were small when you loved that dog. Later ones recall easier and, naturally, you remember the first pup that was all yours. Think: the names come one after another because there was always a dog and in “Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs” by Jennifer Finney Boylan, there was always love.

Like any other history, your life can be separated into “B.C.” and “A.D.” That’s before canine and after dog or, as Boylan says, “My days have been numbered in dogs.”

For her, before James Boylan became Jennifer, there was a dalmatian named Playboy, a “troublesome hoodlum” and escape artist who seemed mostly to ignore Boylan. Playboy showed that it is possible to love someone, despite their faults.

On James’ 11th birthday, Penny entered the family. She was also a dalmatian, and an overeater who grew sausage-like, drooly and messy, but Boylan adored that chubby dog until childhood things were put aside, and Penny resignedly went with them.

There was Matt the Mutt, an out-of-control mongrel who taught Boylan that “sometimes the happiest people are the ones that cause the most pain to everyone around them.” An “adorable brown fluff ball” named Brown showed that scars can be healed “if you know love.”

Alex was not Boylan’s dog at first, and he almost never was; the Gordon Setter’s heart had always belonged to Boylan’s best friend, Zero — although Alex was there when Boylan fell in love, and again when James Boylan revealed that he was transitioning to fully be Jenny. Then there was Lucy, who disliked everyone; and Ranger, the last “family” dog.

“When I was young,” says Boylan, “I was haunted by the person I imagined I could never be.” The surprise was that the boy and the man she was “still live within my heart, along with every last dog that ever helped them on their way.”

Not to quibble, but “Good Boy” is not just about a good boy.

It’s also about a couple of bad boys, a few good girls, a host of hilarious family stories, and author Boylan’s life, told without any dark corners of insincerity. So it is not about a single “Good Boy.” S’okay, we’re good.

You will not even mind that you sometimes forget dogs are supposed to be the reason for this book but that they’re hijacked by Boylan’s most delightful memories, many of which are so evocative and universal, they feel as though they were pulled out of some kind of Late Baby Boomer Handbook. You might not even notice that dogs are just half this book, the other half being a funny, awkward hike toward insight, love, and love of.

This is the sort of book that you want to last just a few more pages. It’s trite to say that you’ll laugh, you’ll cry — but you will. It’s one to read with a furry baby lying on your feet. For right now, “Good Boy” is good to order.