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The first adult novel from acclaimed, bestselling author Meg Rosoff, a perfect summer read about a young New Yorker whose career and love life are turned upside down when he starts taking care of his brother's two dogs.
Jonathan is a copywriter at Comrade advertising agency, working on the most lucrative and most numbingly tedious account, Broadway Depot. His best friend Max works at the next desk, keeping him sane. Jonathan's girlfriend, Julie, works for Bridal 360, an online wedding magazine. When Julie suggests they get married for a live online wedding feature, Jonathan finds himself on a conveyor belt, hurtling towards the rest of his life.
When his brother asks him to look after his dogs, Jonathan begins to see the world around him differently. Could a border collie and a cocker spaniel hold the key to his true happiness? Their sly maneuvering on daily walks and visits to Dr. Clare, the lady vet, suggest that dog sense is several notches higher than human emotional intelligence.
A contemporary romantic comedy set in Manhattan, Jonathan Unleashed is as much a love letter to the city as it is a story about tangled relationships, and dogs. Hilarious, wise and heart-warming, Meg Rosoff's novel will touch a nerve with anyone thinking about what they really want to do with their lives, and which eddy they might allow themselves to be caught in.
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MEG ROSOFF was born in Boston, educated at Harvard and St Martin's College of Art, and worked in New York City for ten years before moving to London permanently in 1989. She worked in publishing, politics, PR and advertising until 2004, when she wrote her first novel, How I Live Now, which won the Guardian Children's fiction prize (UK), Michael L. Printz prize (US), the Die Zeit children's book of the year (Germany) and was shortlisted for the Orange first novel award. Her second novel, Just in Case, won the 2007 Carnegie Medal, and her most recent novel, Picture Me Gone, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Rosoff lives in London with her husband, daughter, and two very hairy dogs.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2016 Meg Rosoff
Jonathan came home from work one day to find the dogs talking about him.
They weren’t even his dogs.
“Just a few months, six maximum? Don’t worry about changing your lifestyle,” his brother pleaded. “Take them out before you go to work and when you get home again in the evening. They’re great dogs and won’t trash your place. Honest, you’ll love them.”
James (typically, it had to be said) had understated the nature of the ask. He never once mentioned the byzantine quality of his dogs’ inner lives, the practical and spiritual difficulties of caring for other sentient beings, the intense and constant scrutiny to which Jonathan was now subject.
Jonathan very much wanted the dogs to be happy, but it was turning out not to be as simple as walks and bones.
Sissy padded up beside him and sat at his feet, looking yearningly into his face as if searching for the key to her future. She emitted a soft whine, a pleading noise that might have meant anything— I’m hungry, I need more love, we’re bored here all day, please turn over the reins to your life so we can sort you out.
Jonathan stared. The reins to his life? He hadn’t even known his life had reins. And if it did, would it be wise to turn them over to a dog?
He pointed at her bed.
“Lie down,” he said. “And stop confounding me with impossible philosophical options.” Her back was to him now, as was Dante’s, their heads together. Awww, he might once have thought. But now he squinted at them, anxious. Were they plotting to take over his life? And if so, how?
He had to admit it was nice being greeted with enthusiasm when he came home from a hard day at the advertising coal mine. Long walks took the place of going to the gym, and the dogs’ ability to sleep calmed him, took the edge off work. They were good-looking dogs, and people stopped him on the street to admire his fine taste in pets. At the beginning he’d demur, saying they belonged to his brother in Dubai, but after a while he just said, “Thank you,” and “Your dog is nice too,” even when the other dog wasn’t, particularly.
But lately something had shifted in his relationship with them. He sensed they disapproved of his lifestyle.
Which was fair enough. He disapproved of it too.
Jonathan looked up and saw the critics at the door, waiting. Walk time. At least he had a park. Most dog owners in New York had to walk miles to find one, or hire someone to transport their dogs to Central Park. It was one of the deciding factors for James.
“You have a dog run practically across the street! How lucky is that?”
How lucky was it, mused Jonathan, though it was way too late to move now. He turned up the collar of his jacket, trudged the three blocks to Tompkins Square Park in the rain, unclipped the leashes, and off they ran, skipping for joy, sniffing other dogs and snaffling up bits of discarded food. Jonathan pressed himself up against a tree for cover.
He thought about work while the dogs played with their friends, until he noticed that they’d stopped frolicking and were standing, staring at him damply. James always threw a ball for us, their expressions said. He played hide-and-seek and introduced us to other dogs.
Jonathan stared back at them. What? Now dogs needed introductions? “Whatever happened to butt-sniffing? Go sniff a butt,” he said, waving in the direction of the teeming pack. “Make your own social life. Stand on your own four feet.”
An older man with a husky and a large blue golf umbrella turned to look at him. “You tell ’em,” he said. “In my day we sniffed our own butts.”
The rain tapered off. Sissy trotted off toward a teacup version of a foreign dog who’d wandered in from the small-dog gulag. It was a fluffy gingery thing straight out of the Mattel factory. Next to the puffball, a Weimaraner with a long-suffering expression wore a padded rainsuit in pale pink-and-green paisley with matching boots and hood.
Why did people think dogs wanted to wear clothes? The Weimaraner’s owner glared at him and he wondered if he’d been thinking out loud again.
“Nice dog,” he said with a smile, but the woman turned away.
He caught Sissy’s eye. What kind of life was this for a dog? Maybe his dogs hated New York City, with its emphasis on labels, money, and grooming. Maybe they wished they lived on a farm, where they could run and play and be useful. But surely the dogs and cats and rats and squirrels and birds and humans in New York all adjusted to life well enough? They walked the streets, they ate great food, they were fine, Jonathan thought. Weren’t they? His own life wasn’t bad. Not long out of art school, a junior copywriter at Comrade, his own apartment, and a not-unimpressive girlfriend by the name of Julie Cormorant. The dogs should admire him.
“Come on,” he called. Sissy bounded up, and Dante made a show of saying an elaborate farewell to the ginger fuzzball before turning and trotting slowly back to his legal guardian. As Jonathan bent to clip on Sissy’s leash, the spaniel met his eyes with an expression of profound sympathy. Dante lifted his leg in the general direction of Jonathan’s foot.
“Hey!” Jonathan growled, and after an instant’s hesitation, the pack sloped off toward his apartment on the third floor. The heavens opened half a block from home and they arrived drenched.
For his first five weeks in New York, Jonathan lived on his best friend’s couch.
“Are you kidding me?” Max said, throwing a couple of cleanish sheets over the blue corduroy cushions. “I’d be mortally wounded if you stayed at the Four Seasons.”
“I’ll pay you back someday.”
Max clapped his shoulder. “Non necesario, amigo. Mi casa es tu casa.”
“Muchas castanets, pal.”
Max lived in Bed-Stuy, in a one-bedroom apartment he shared with whichever gorgeous girlfriend he happened to be going around with at the moment. Jonathan didn’t mind the couch, which was comfortable enough, and Max was a perfect guide to first-time living in New York, with his intimate knowledge of every bar between Harlem and Canarsie, not to mention a single-minded determination to get Jonathan a job at Comrade, his own place of employ.
“Ten-thirty interview tomorrow,” he said. “It’s all fixed with Ed. I’ve done the subliminal thing with him, muttering your name whenever we’re in the same room so he already thinks it’s God’s will to hire you.”
“You really think he’ll do it? Don’t I need some kind of skills?”
“Nah.” Max flipped the cheese sandwich he was frying. “The hard part will be convincing him you’re a genius who’s temperamentally incapable of rocking the boat. Everything we do is blindingly obvious, dressed up with a mountain of marketing to look like time travel.”
Jonathan had resigned himself to weeks of answering ads online, interviewing for jobs that didn’t exist, accepting internships at start-ups whose USP was that they didn’t pay. A bit of Method acting had to be easier than that.
The next morning, he put on his best shirt and least faded jeans, got on the subway with Max, and headed for Tribeca. The interview was short. “Hey, Johnny!” Ed greeted him with enthusiasm that extended to an affectionate hug, though it was his younger brother, Ben, that Max and Jonathan had been friends with at school. “How you been? Great to see you. So Max says you’ll be an asset to the place. Will you?”
Still in pleasantry mode, Jonathan was taken aback. “Well,” he began, looking nervously at the twenty or so open-plan employees peering at him. He leaned in to Ed and whispered, “You mean, here?”
“Yup. Let’s put on the show right here.” Ed grinned maniacally. Max stood behind the boss nodding encouragement.
Jonathan cleared his throat. “Well, um, I pride myself on my skill at problem solving. I’ve always worked well with a team . . .” Within seconds he realized he’d lost Ed’s interest, and Max drew his finger across his throat.
Okay, he thought. Lowering his voice half an octave, he began again. “I like to grab a problem by the jugular and squeeze the life out of it, go for the soft underbelly, reach inside the bastard and drag out its lungs.” This seemed to win back Ed’s attention, though to be fair, the language wasn’t his. One of his freshman roommates hailed from a handgun and deer-murdering clan in Kentucky and talked almost exclusively in killing metaphors.
“I figure I can learn a lot from you, Ed. You’ve always been my role model.”
Ed was a few years older than Jonathan and Max. Growing up, neither of them had much liked him and no one in their right mind admired him.
“I’m not after my name in lights, or lots of money,” Jonathan stated firmly. “It’s about opening up the thorax and grabbing hold of the balls, getting to the gist of what we stand for. That’s what makes me tick.” Everything but the thorax was Max’s prompt; they’d rehearsed it last night. Jonathan barely knew what he was saying.
He began to feel slightly desperate. “Ed, hand on heart, there isn’t a job in New York City I’d rather have.” He followed the track of Ed’s eyes to a dark-haired girl in a tight dress. She was waving a file at them.
“Great, good, fine,” Ed said, having forgotten what Jonathan was saying or why.
“Um, will you let me know soon?” Jonathan didn’t want to appear pushy, but he wasn’t entirely sure about another month on Max’s couch. There was no answer from Ed, who had turned, mesmerized, to follow the dark-haired girl back in the direction of his office.
Max materialized by his side. “Not a dry eye in the place, my friend. I’d say you’ve caught yourself a Great White.”
Max shrugged. “Call it women’s intuition. Let’s go tell HR to draw you up a contract. We’ll strike while the candle’s hot. Ed won’t remember who you are tomorrow.”
Jonathan spent the next two weeks madly searching for an affordable place to live. After fruitless days scouring Brooklyn, he answered an ad for an apartment on the Lower East Side that was rented before he arrived. He stopped at a nearby health-food store just as a bald middle-aged man in a pale gray suit tacked an ad up on the noticeboard. Jonathan waited for him to leave, read the ad, ripped it off the board, and chased after him down the street.
“Hello!” he shouted. “Excuse me! I’m interested in the apartment!”
The man frowned. “That was quick.”
“Could I see it now?”
The man shrugged and looked him over. Jonathan smiled ingratiatingly.
“Okay,” the man said at last. “Why not? It’s a nice place.” He jiggled his key in the front door of a tenement building near the corner of Avenue C. Frank (“Francis Joseph after the archbishop”) pointed out the fire escapes to Jonathan with pride: “All regulations up to scratch.” They climbed to the third floor, where Frank opened number 3D and led Jonathan in. The entire place was painted dark red with gold trim, but if you squinted and imagined it white, it wasn’t bad at all. The living room was large and sunny, the bedroom and galley kitchen small but adequate, the bathroom had the original black-and-
White tiles, not to mention congealed-blood-red walls, but overall Jonathan couldn’t believe his luck. An affordable decent-sized one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan? He’d expected to find a unicorn first.
“Is it okay if I repaint?”
“Long as you do it neat.”
He took it on the spot and they sealed the deal with a handshake and five hundred bucks out of the nearest ATM.
Jonathan felt he had no choice but to trust a man named after an archbishop.
“I need first and last months up front,” Frank said. “You get twenty-four hours’ notice when I need the place back for my friend. No contract. Okay by you?”
Jonathan hesitated. “Twenty-four hours?”
“Look.” Frank spoke slowly, like a man explaining how the world works to a small child. “It’s kind of a special situation.”
With a sudden flash of insight, Jonathan got that Frank’s friend was currently in housing paid for by the federal government and might be released at any time. He wondered what the friend had gone to jail for and hoped it wasn’t the murder of a former tenant.
He closed his eyes. It would take less than fifteen minutes to bike to work.
“Okay,” he said.
The next day he handed over the rest of the deposit and Francis Joseph handed over the keys. Jonathan couldn’t stop smiling. This was the life he’d imagined for as long as he could remember, a life of easy jobs and cheap Manhattan apartments, of mysterious deals that fell into his lap because the universe had chosen him.
He painted everything white. The bedroom was only big enough for a double mattress on milk crates and a small chest of drawers for his clothes, but he didn’t care. He bought the mattress at Dream Shack around the corner, found an old leather couch and a child’s dresser on Craigslist, salvaged a coffee table from the street on garbage day, and bought a secondhand drawing board for the corner of the living room. His parents donated a square red Formica table from the 1950s that was fashionable again, and there were enough built-in bookshelves for his collection of comics and his own personal unpublished archive. It was perfect.
Each month thereafter, he received the rent bill written in ballpoint on a piece of lined paper torn out of a notebook. It wasn’t exactly standard procedure, but it worked well enough. Jonathan noticed that the account into which he paid his rent money changed with every couple of bills, but as long as he didn’t have to deal with anyone in person he was fine. If he was subletting some kind of Mafia safe house while Lefty Gambino served his sentence, he figured a little distance was no bad thing.
Week by week he waited to be told the deal was off, but on the fifteenth of every month the lined paper appeared in his mailbox. Perhaps Lefty was turning out not to be such a model prisoner after all.
He began to think of 3D as home.
Now that the dogs had moved in, the place was even cozier. Jonathan wondered why people always talked about plants and fish tanks making a house feel like a home when two dogs were like a ready-made family, minus the rage. Sissy loved her squashy bed, while Dante favored the couch, which offered maximum comfort and height plus views of the apartment across the way, pigeons landing on the windowsill, and action on the street below.
Jonathan studied dog instruction manuals. “Border collies are among the most intelligent of dogs,” the first book began, “only truly happy when engaged in a mission or task.” It continued at length on this subject: blah blah sheep, blah blah herding instinct, reminding him at the end that “even the most intelligent Border collie will look to you for leadership and guidance.” He glanced over at his own collie, who seemed wholly indifferent to leadership and guidance, but moderately interested in old movies.
There was something about Dante. Jonathan couldn’t put his finger on it, but after only a week in residence, the collie had the definite air of...
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Book Description Doubleday Canada 2016-07-05, 2016. Paperback. Condition: New. Paperback. Publisher overstock, may contain remainder mark on edge. Seller Inventory # 9780385686105B