It was May 29, 2019 when I wrote on my Facebook page, “I want this book. Really want this book.” Go Find: My Journey to Find the Lost—and Myself, written by Susan Purvis, is about her experiences raising a puppy to be an avalanche search and rescue dog, her own growth as a professional search and rescue volunteer, and her subsequent career in teaching wilderness medicine. I knew, immediately, when I read the review in the Montanan that the book would be my cup of tea: a strong, female protagonist on a journey of self-discovery with a dog—and a memoir, my favorite genre, to boot. When I asked about it at a bookstore in Billings, they told me it wouldn’t be out until September, so I resigned myself to wait.
A few weeks later, I received a package in the mail from Susan Purvis; I recognized the name, the postmarked town (Whitefish), and the M.O.: Mark had contacted her and ordered it for me, the same way he ordered another of my favorite books, Indian Creek Chronicles, from Pete Fromm. Mark had done that, gone to all that trouble, even though we hadn’t been involved with each other for months. When it arrived, we had just started to talk about giving our relationship another try, and that, along with other things, sealed the deal for me.
Today, I finished reading the story of Tasha, the black Lab, and Susan, and completing the book left me feeling kind of lost, myself. What now? How can I just go on with life knowing that the story ended and it won’t be waiting on my bedside table for me to read another chapter? This is the same reaction I’ve had to all of my favorite books, over the years, and it’s a common sensation many readers share, one of despair that the story is over: every writer should hope for such a reaction from her readers.
Purvis does many things well in her first book. Her descriptions of Tasha, from the day she chose her from the litter at six weeks old to the day (SPOILER) Tasha took her last breath, every single thing resonated with me. I’ve had dogs in the past, spending Basco’s last minutes with him alone, and choosing Zoey Blue at eight weeks old just eight months ago, so a dog’s life, especially the challenging months of puppyhood, are fresh in my memory. What made me love Tasha—and Susan—more than anything are Purvis’ accounts of the many times Tasha misbehaved, some of them directly related to Purvis’ own mistakes. Knowing that Tasha was a world-class search dog responsible for saving many lives (and finding many others) and that she, too, gave in to distractions and temptations, despite all her training, made me feel more hopeful for Zoey. The fact that Purvis could recognize in retrospect where she had been inconsistent or herself distracted from being a good dog-mom made me feel less inadequate. Purvis’ descriptions of her complicated feelings toward Tasha during those moments of misbehavior mirrored my own with Zoey: frustration, anger, fear which soon give way to relief and intense love. Several times in the book, Purvis writes of Tasha’s dark, brown eyes, about locking eyes with her and trying to decipher what Tasha is wanting to communicate, to her frustration when Tasha won’t listen nor make eye contact. This, too, describes my complicated relationship with my dog, and I feel Purvis’ frustrations and feelings of inadequacy; I find myself nodding, silently affirming, “yes, yes, yes!!”
I appreciated Purvis’ honesty and humility when she describes her difficult relationship with her local search and rescue organization and its members, particularly a character she calls “Stink Face.” Whether intentional or not, Purvis doesn’t seem to be trying to portray herself as completely innocent and unblemished; there’s times when I cringed internally at some of her reactions to comments or events, and I thought about my own occasional reactivity, impudence, impatience, and impulsiveness, all those “imp” words. A small woman in a male-dominated capacity, Purvis seemed to have had few supporters and plenty of adversaries, especially early on before she proved herself and Tasha capable and competent.
One important element of the story that I feel was lacking a bit is the relationship between Purvis and her husband, Doug. This relationship is present throughout the story, but like the real relationship she describes, it feels superficial. The end of the book rests heavily on the consequences of the failure of that relationship, and her reaction felt completely inappropriate to me, as a reader. Throughout the book, I felt as though her marriage was pretty good, not great, but that she was more or less indifferent to the marriage and Doug. Several times, they argue about something she intends to do, and she always goes ahead with her plans despite Doug’s protests. It seemed a cognitive decision based on priorities; however, when the marriage ends, her reaction is much more dramatic than I would have expected, which suggests to me that the true nature of the relationship—or at least her understanding of that nature—was not well-conveyed through the text. Either that or she did not understand her own feelings prior to the demise of the relationship. In any case, that is something I would have encouraged her to spend more time with had I been in her writers’ group.
So, what does it all mean? Is this a book review, a personal blog post, some kind of self-revelation discovered through reading a good book, or blather? I suggest it is all of the above. For the past nine months, I have tried valiantly to train Zoey to be an obedient dog; we have had some really great times together, but I have also cried a lot of tears, of frustration, anger, and despair, because sometimes I didn’t know what to do, and many times whatever I did, didn’t work. I wouldn’t change anything, but it has not been easy. Add to that eight months (give or take) of constant pain in my hip and back, the maddening delay of a precise diagnosis, the inability to sleep, think, or move without pain, and a person might have some idea of what my life has been like for the past year. Mix all that together with a professionally disappointing semester (myriad reasons for this) and insecurity in my personal life, and it becomes a perfect storm, or maybe…or maybe it was my own failings that contributed to the structural failure of my world in 2019.
Whatever the genesis, it was a brutal start to the end of a decade, and when Mark said, “I want to help…you don’t need to go it alone,” all I could say was “okay.” Read the book, or better yet, send it to someone you love. It might possibly have healing qualities.