What’s not to love about pugs? They are cute and comical, and they cavort. They snort and are fond of giving kisses. For small dogs, they have a lot of personality. In the novel Pug Hill, the protagonist, Hope McNeill, 31, loves all dogs, especially pugs. When she’s not working at the Metropolitan Museum (she is a painting conservator) or looking for love, she’s hanging out at Pug Hill in Central Park. Weekends are best – that’s when many of her small fawn and black-colored friends will be running off lead.
Pug Hill actually exists. In a New York Magazine article, Ethan Brown writes, “Pug Hill …provides one of the strangest spectacles in Central Park when, in what can only be described as a kind of pug whirlpooling, dozens of the dogs form a pack to speedily circle their owners.” Pug Hill’s cover image gives one an idea of the visual doggy delights.
In Alison Pace’s second novel, pugs loom large but not quite as large as this reader had anticipated. What are most pressing are two big issues in Hope’s life: her search for love and her lack of luck, and her fear of public speaking. When her parents ask her to make a speech for their anniversary party, she panics. Sure, her parents did one great thing – they taught her to love dogs -- but why do they ask her to do the one thing she most dreads?
A good daughter, Hope says, “Yes,” and enrolls in a public speaking class at The New School. There, in a small group of variously neurotic people, she begins to overcome her fear of speaking to an audience. But, as is true at the Met, she does not find true love in this group, either.
This book falls into the category of chick lit. It is light. Hope’s dilemmas may be huge to her, but this reader did not really care. I wanted her to grow up - and to get a pug. In its favor is that the book is sometimes quite hysterical, mostly when Hope is discussing her mother or friends who keep worrying when she is going to settle down, and when she is discussing her consuming love of pugs. When she is asked in the group by another member, a literary novelist, what her favorite book is, Hope responds, “My favorite book is The Encyclopedia of Dogs.” She also waxes philosophical about her favorite animal: “No matter what anyone says. The thing is, I realize, is that a dog (of the four-legged variety) can’t ever be called The One That Got Away [the topic of a class assignment]. Because once you love them, and they love you, they’re always with you. They never really go away.” Also, in the novel’s favor, the ending is sweet and ties up many loose ends.
This is Pace’s second novel. Her first was If Andy Warhol Had a Girlfriend (2005), also about the New York art scene, and she is at work on a third novel.
Pug Hill would make good beach or airplane reading for those readers (probably young women) in love with pugs and with the notion of finding romantic love with one special human.