In “Unlikely Companions: The Adventures of an Exotic Animal Doctor (Or, What Friends Feathered, Furred, and Scaled Have Taught Me About Life and Love” author and veterinarian Laurie Hess (with Samantha Rose), presents the reader with a mystery as well as a memoir about her life.
This cleverly constructed true story alternates between the “present” telling of the story and recollections of the past. The chapters are presented as days of the weeks, divided by times of day. Within those chapters are flashbacks as something triggers Hess’ remembrance of an event that took place in the past. The flashbacks are quite well-integrated into the narrative as a whole.
What really holds the book together and keeps the pages turning is the mystery that runs through the memoir. Sugar gliders are dying, and Hess treated a few of them. As the memoir progresses through the days and forward and back in time, Hess is struggling to discover why sugar gliders across the country are dying. They all originate from one sugar glider breeder on the East coast.
Hess does solve the mystery by the end of the memoir, of course, and the readers get to ride along on the roller coaster of emotions she experiences during the investigation.
Understand that the stories about the animals and their people are personal and touching. Each story is detailed with enough information that the exchanges and the families with their animals can be pictured.
One heartbreaking scene is of a woman with her aged guinea pig. The pig needed surgery and medication, but the newly-wed woman with the Kate Spade purse and the multi-carat engagement ring couldn’t convince her husband to part with the money to save her beloved pet. The woman says to Hess, “She’s my best friend.”
Hess then goes on to comment:
“I’ve seen firsthand, countless times, how animals can expand and change the lives of the people who take them into their homes. Traditional dog and cat owners may find it hard to imagine that a spiny hedgehog or squawky Macaw can also snuggle and nuzzle and make an affectionate pet or that even the clumsiest potbellied pig can walk on a leash, but I’ve witnessed unbreakable bonds between humans and these special animals that defy explanation again and again.”
The stories are touching — unbelievably, even the ones about snakes. Hess’ personal story is also memorable. She has Type 1 Diabetes and juggles her marriage, two children, her illness, and her demanding profession — not always with aplomb. She is appropriately self-deprecating and always amusing.
Please note: This review is based on the advance review copy provided by Da Capo, the publisher, for review purposes.