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Bookworm: Have a pet? You need to read’ ‘Lost Companions’

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
A dog and a cat resting together.

“Lost Companions: Reflections on the Death of Pets”

  • By Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
  • c. 2020, St. Martin's Press
  • $27.99, $37.99 Canada; 247 pages

The food bowl has been washed and tucked away safe in a high cabinet. No one asks you to roll a ball down the hallway anymore. The squeak of soft toys no longer interrupt your TV shows these days; in fact, it's too quiet now and you hate it.

“Lost Companions: Reflections on the Death of Pets” by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.

Even worse, there's a reason why these things are so, and in "Lost Companions" by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, you'll read thoughts on the loss of your pet.

What a "miracle" it is that we have pets: here we are, different species that feel "a deep and ancient longing" to be with one another. Such a thing "delights" Masson, perhaps because he's had animal companions his entire life.

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The problem, as all animal lovers know, is that pets don't live as long as people do.

We know, the moment we get a new fluff, that we're going to grieve that pet someday; just thinking about it is a grief all on its own. Masson believes that animals are also aware of their mortality, but we can't get inside their minds to know what they think about it and perhaps euthanasia is utilized too hastily.

When a pet dies, "we are simply not prepared for this .... we want our beloved companions to live longer." We may be surprised at the depth of the raw emotion we feel; Masson quotes (and marvels at) several people who say they grieved harder at the loss of a pet than they did for a human. We should, therefore, never "belittle the grief of others" when it comes to pets, which includes when our pets exhibit grief – and they do.

Says Masson, "You could say grieving makes us human, or you could also say, grieving makes us just another animal."

It's awfully hard to determine the exact point of "Lost Companions."

Yes, it's about losing a pet, and the emotions you inevitably feel about it. But author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson also delves deeply into the deaths of wildlife, livestock, and humans, which are not at all the only off-topic topics. He also writes particularly gruesomely about dog-meat markets, and he touches upon veganism, and "companion" versus "owner." To continue, the tedious, already-hashed-over subject of whether pets love us is brought forth again, and Masson argues strongly against “The Final Kindess,” saying he can't imagine it, but admitting that he's never witnessed it.

And yet ... (heavy sigh).

If you've ever lost a pet, you know you need to read this book, the on-point of which arrives with fewer than 100 pages to go. You know you've been there, and you might be there again, and that maybe, possibly, there's another way to ease your grief, some way you haven't yet encountered. It might be here. It might.

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Indeed. This is a three-tissue book, but Masson gives you room: it's not a cry-fest until quite a ways in. Keep that in mind and have your tear-wipes nearby: if you've recently lost a furry loved one, "Lost Companions" may bowl you over.

“The Sensitives: The Rise of Environmental Illness and the Search for America's Last Pure Place”

  • By Oliver Broudy
  • c. 2020, Simon & Schuster
  • $27, $36 Canada; 339 pages

Good news! Your last doctor says you're fine. So why does your head feel like it's been run over by a semi? Why does your skin crawl, your gut hurt, your throat burns within 10 feet of every scented product you encounter, and you only want to sleep? Will there ever be a cure for this or, like those in "The Sensitives" by Oliver Broudy, will it take a hermit's life to heal you?

Their friendship was real, but like a spider web: fragile in a barely-there sort of way. And yet, Oliver Broudy considered Brian Welsh enough of a buddy that Broudy spoke to Brian when he could, enough that when Brian went missing, Broudy wanted to find him, "if he could possibly be found."

He knew Brian as one of the "Sensitives."

Brian'd had one of the most normal lives anyone can imagine. Average scholar. Plenty of friends. Decent job, marriage, and then one day, he was inexplicably sick. Doctors had no answers for his weakness, dizziness, stomach pain, so after years of suffering, Brian headed west, hoping to comfortably live among people like him, people who also couldn't tolerate modern life and it's chemicals, pesticides, EMFs, additives, or inventions.

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After Brian's disappearance, Broudy hitched a ride west with James, who also knew Brian. James, too, was suffering with Environmental Illness (EI), which led him to a life that rotated from town to town, seeking comfort at a number of homes he owned. James thought he knew where Brian was: near Snowflake, Arizona, a town that attracts EI sufferers with remoteness and dry climates.

For Broudy, there was much to learn about this modern malady: EI victims number in the high thousands, suffering from symptoms that seem like allergies to modern life. There's no cure; in fact, some non-sufferers (including many doctors) deny that the disease exists, though the effects are real, physically, emotionally, and financially.

"The Sensitives: The Rise of Environmental Illness and the Search for America's Last Pure Place" by Oliver Broudy.

And it's possible – maybe, potentially – that we may all be "at risk."

For its long hypotheticality and its ending-not-ending, this book can be a frustration.

Maybe that's because it's too early for something like this. There's not enough to know and in the meantime, "The Sensitives" is a guess, like a mystery novel but someone's ripped out the last twelve pages, like a real-life medical riddle presented with too many lovely metaphors. It's part meditation, part hypothesis, as author Oliver Broudy ponders what he's noticed about EI sufferers and acknowledges the enigma.

That insight is great, but then we're plunged back into the bothersome wordiness, and the mind wanders as the minor road trip-slash-adventure fails to call it back. Interesting bits of the book – like the time spent in Snowflake and with EI sufferers, and science history – are too-often set aside for descriptions of the desert.

Meh. In the end, "The Sensitives" is okay. It's a six on a one-to-10 scale, slightly better than just middling. If you're curious about EI, it's mostly close to good enough. If you're a sufferer, you'll like this book fine.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.