But in Waiting for the Magic...of all things...talking dogs! Not just dogs that look smart, or behave as though they had something to say. Talking dogs! And they were totally unnecessary. Will and Elinor's dad would still have come home and buckled down and been a responsible father and husband without the aid of four mismatched hounds sending thought waves to everyone in the family. The characters were good, true to original MacLachlan form, original and believable and dimensional. The four-year-old is bright but goofy, and the ten-year-old is reserved and reluctant to believe and to forgive. The parents are less interesting and immature – not, I suppose, atypical of real life.
And then, did I mention this? There are four talking dogs. These dogs bring magic into the home and set the world to rights, and destroy the story. It might be good for a family to have a dog, it could bring a sort of common ground to people who are distraught, and serve to bring together children and parents in caring for this animal. But under no circumstances can a dog tell a person what color coat it wants, whether your mom is going to have a baby, and how to get your dad to straighten up and fly right. Dogs are not counsellors. They are not little furry angels doling out advice. They do not have some higher understanding that their owners are incapable of achieving without their assistance. They are just plain ol' dogs.
What I enjoyed so much about MacLachlans' earlier works was the strength and resilience of the human spirit in her characters. They encountered great trials, and they overcame. They worked through things on their own, or with other characters, to get through the hard times and start enjoying the good times again. They had dignity and strength and worked hard and were able to make changes. Waiting for the Magic has very little in common with those books, and it's an unfortunate thing.