Reading Ask Bob, I couldn’t help but think that writer Peter Gethers was tapping into the same pool as Jonathan Tropper. Tropper’s novels are about flawed men and the people who love them. With Gether’s novel, the people who love them is extended to not only those of the human variety but also Dr. Bob’s animal companions — both those who helps cure and those who are an intimate part of his life.
Living in New York City, Robert Heller has a thriving veterinarian practice and is the popular writer of a weekly newspaper column (think “Dear Abby” for pets). But unlike the works of James Herriot, Ask Bob is less focused on the animals he treats as it is on Dr. Bob himself — his life, his loves and his family.
Each chapter begins with a column from the syndicated newspaper feature, which will reflect on and foreshadow some of what is to come in the proceeding chapter. And as the novel expands the circle of Bob’s universe, several chapters also some with an essay on a person or pet that Bob encounters in his New York practice.
And while Dr. Bob may seem to have it all together in his newspaper columns, perception is not necessarily reality when it comes to his personal life. It’s not that Dr. Bob is a mess by any means. It’s just that he’s human with all the quirks and foibles that comes with it.
The novel is divided into two halves, reflecting on Bob’s life and his family before and after a life-changing event. To reveal more about the event would be to give too much away, though sharp-eyed readers may deduce the event long before Gethers get to it on the printed page. Whether you figure it out early or not doesn’t make a huge difference because Ask Bob is a character study — and a compelling, amusing, funny and fascinating one at that.
As I said earlier, much of this novel reminded me of what Jonathan Tropper does with his flawed male protagonists. Gethers does a great job of making Bob and his world feel authentic and lived it. There are times when we love Bob and times we’re disappointed in him, but as the story unfolds we’re shown that Bob is uniquely human and flawed — just like the rest of us.
Told with warmth and humor, Bob’s story is one that will enthrall you and may even tug on the heart strings a bit. It’s got humor and it’s got pathos and all of it is equally earned.
Ask Bob is a low-key, enjoyable novel. I’m glad I got the chance to meet Dr. Bob and spend a couple of hundred pages with him.