Editor’s reading list: ‘A Marriage in Dog Years’ by Nancy Balbirer

Cover art for "A Marriage in Dog Years: A Memoir" by Nancy Balbirer.

A few weeks ago, when a friend of mine heard I was traveling soon, she lent me her Amazon Kindle to use to read while I was on my excursion to Washington, D.C. Aside from reading my chosen e-book on the plane there and back, I didn’t get much reading done, but this week, I stuck with my Kindle book choice: “A Marriage in Dog Years: A Memoir” by Nancy Balbirer.

Balbirer’s memoir draws the reader in from the get-go; one of the first scenes entails Balbirer stuck in her stalled car in the middle of a busy highway. Just having finished one of her first dates with Sam, her future spouse, she calls him to see if he can help. He does, driving up to Balbirer’s stopped car and urging her to hop inside quickly.

Then, we go back to the present day, and Ira, the couple’s 11-year-old dog, is having health issues. Balbirer spends thousands of dollars keeping the beagle alive, and this points us to the rift that has formed between Balbirer and her husband; the dog is just about as old as their marriage, and as his health deteriorates and comes back from the brink, Balbirer and Sam are in flux, too.

This memoir takes readers on a journey through the next year of Balbirer’s life. Between couples therapy sessions, Wiccan magic rituals, keeping Ira alive and happy, managing their wine bar business and making sure their young daughter does not know of their trials, Balbirer couples her inner thoughts and reflections to the events in her life with Sam and the friends who act as her support system.

However, in the middle third of the book, slices of Balbirer’s life story are hit-or-miss. Some stories seemed to repeat the same sentiment a second or third time over, not offering any new insight or change to Balbirer and Sam’s marriage. As a reader, this made me uninterested in the novel until Balbirer finally answers the question: should we divorce?

Better timelining would have improved the middle portion of the book. Balbirer switches between present-day happenings and reflections on the past, which often provide more insight to issues that arose earlier in her marriage. Often, though, the temporal placement of that story is lost, only to be regained with a small hint like the proximity to their nth wedding anniversary or before their daughter was born.

For the author, recalling these memories and writing them down with small temporal markers may work, but for casual readers, the line between present and past happenings can be hard to discern.

Nevertheless, when a decision is made on whether to divorce or not to divorce, the memoir’s final few chapters are engaging. I felt like a resolution had been made, relieving a tension that the book carried on since the beginning.

This memoir would be a good match for people who have divorced, who contemplated it but have decided to stay together and those who have witnessed divorce, be it with parents or close friends. As someone who has not even been married and whose parents are still married, I could not relate personally to a lot of the insights and thoughts Balbirer expressed in her memoir. But, regardless of relationship status past or present, any reader can learn something from Balbirer’s account of her marital troubles.

It takes an extra push of motivation to get through, but the resolution of “A Marriage in Dog Years” is worth the wait.

Dene Dryden is the Collegian’s editor-in-chief and a junior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

I'm Dene Dryden, and I graduated in May 2020 with a Bachelor's of Arts in English. Before graduating, I worked at the Collegian for more than three years as a copy chief, managing editor and editor-in-chief. I also served a term on the Collegian Media Group Board of Directors. While at K-State, I also worked at Wildcat 91.1 FM. My cat Robyn is the light of my life, and I take compliments in the form of coffee.