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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Author Ann Garvin previously wrote "On Maggie's Watch" back in 2010.

Local author Garvin combines canines and kleptomania in "The Dog Year"


Ann Garvin was a thief exactly once in her life, and Danny Ocean, she was not. She was just a little girl. And her jealous heist's mission? Some candy buttons.

"I stole maybe six buttons, but I didn't get out of the store; the woman at the counter stopped me," Garvin recalled. "I remember just feeling so incredibly ashamed that that was the end of it for me. I was such a good girl; I don't know what compelled me to do it. I think I did it because my brother had more money and was going to get more candy, and I was super p*ssed about that. (laughs) But it never even made it into my pocket. But I will never forget the shame."

The experience, however slight, made its impact on Garvin – even decades later. The story even made it into "The Dog Year," the Wisconsin-based author's second novel, released just yesterday to the public. It was an incident several years later – one where Garvin played the role of innocent witness rather than swindler – that oddly provided the author with inspiration.

"I remember years ago – probably the late '90s – I saw a woman try to shoplift a purse from TJ Maxx," Garvin said. "At the time of it, she looked like she knew she was obviously caught, and then she thought she was going to make a break for it but she didn't She gave up on that immediately. And it made me feel so sad for her. I just kept thinking, 'My god, what's going through her mind? And now what?' I thought about it often over the years, and whenever I'd see a sign that said shoplifting steals from all of us or something, unfortunately for that woman, I'd think of her."

Years later, that memory gave Garvin the inspiration for her lead character in "The Dog Year:" Dr. Lucy Peterman, a well-respected surgeon who turns to stealing to stay level after an accident takes away her husband and unborn child. She soon resorts to swiping supplies from her own hospital, a decision that gets her caught and reluctantly dragged into a 12-step program for help.

"I usually start a book with a character, and my character was Lucy," Garvin said. "I just kind of wove my way through the book, trying to figure out why somebody would shoplift and what's in it for them."

For the sake of authenticity, Garvin – a former nurse herself who now teaches health at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater along with creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University – did her research into kleptomania. She read up on addiction and dependency, talked to a cop friend about the aftermath of getting caught in the act and even went to some AA meetings (which, according to Garvin, were very welcoming despite the potential discomfort with her playing the role of fly on the wall) to learn about the language and psychology of addicts.

"Often they say that shoplifting is done by people that clearly have enough money," Garvin said. "There's this type of shoplifting done by, in some cases, affluent women, and I got to thinking who is that person that does that, why do they do that and what might be a way to get out that and heal from it."

For Garvin, the cure for Lucy – a dogs, which gets title billing as well as the cover treatment – wound up being something from her own life experience.

"I was going through kind of a tough time in my life, and I got a dog kind of coincidentally at the same time," Garvin recalled. "It was a puppy – very rambunctious. I brought the dog to the park every single day; otherwise, the dog ate all the baseboards in the house and every flip-flop. But watching that dog, how much joy there was to do this full-out run and play with other dogs, was kind of a release during a time when I was going through a rough time."

The resulting book – one the author will bring to Boswell Book Company on Monday, June 23 at 7 p.m. – follows in the footsteps of Garvin's favorite authors: Nora Ephron, Jane Hamilton, Erma Bombeck, Ann Hood and many others who, to Garvin, are able to write about heavier topics with a light, human touch.

"What I found was that everybody's got something, some little oddity or something they're struggling with or dealing with," Garvin noted. "If there's anything to be taken from the book, it's that everybody has it. And I don't know, I think those people are interesting. I think some of the best people are those who are struggling with something. They're working really hard to figure it out, and sometimes in the process of working it those things, they become even more interesting and more understanding."

It's with that mindset that Garvin and "The Dog Year" hope to steal their way onto some reading lists this summer.


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