Church of the Dog Review
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Mara O’Shaunnessy broke off her engagement after her fiancé charged her $10.00 for a ride to the hospital. After regrouping at her grandmother’s house, Mara accepts a position as an art teacher in a rural Oregon town. Upon arriving in town, she rescues a hog from certain death at a livestock auction, where she learns of an elderly couple, Earl and Edith McRae, who may be willing to take her in. Mara becomes their tenant and breathes new life into the stagnant lives of the McRaes—who, along with their grandson, Daniel, have been shut up inside themselves as a result of lives beset by tragedy.

Mara also possesses paranormal manifestations: she travels through her dreams (she’s even visited Heaven), she can see people’s auras, she has visions, and she sees her students’ futures. Eventually, Earl and Edith pass away, leaving the ranch to Daniel, who’s not sure that he wants it. Mara helps Daniel face the decisions that he has to make in order to find peace in his life. And just when you think all is settled, a surprise event makes for a stunning conclusion.

Church of the Dog is told alternately from the points of view of Mara, Edith, Earl, and Daniel. It makes you feel as though you’re reading each person’s diary, giving you clear insights into each character’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

My first reaction when I began the book was, “This is a little flaky,” because the dream traveling and visions and the other paranormal aspects of the story lie outside reality. But I changed my mind after I skipped to the back of the book to read an interview with the author. I learned that, when McLaren wrote this book in her bathtub in 2000, she began by thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could...” and her imagination took over. She said in her interview that the book was largely her dream at that point in her life—not so much her reality. She also said that she didn’t intend to publish the book, so “it ended up being a much more personal book than she would have written if she knew she was writing for an audience.” Once I understood that I was reading someone’s dream, I really began to enjoy the book. It’s spiritual, emotional, and loaded with imagery.

Part reality, part fantasy, Church of the Dog is a unique novel that just might give you a new outlook on life.

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