Dog lovers are amazing, passionate people who pour their hearts into their passion. I have two pups of my own, and I honestly like them more than people most days. However, I find that passion often translates in literature into cloying dog stories with passages including the words “love” and “happy” on every page. Since the wild success of the film version of A Dog’s Purpose last year, I feel like every time I walk into a book store I have been inundated with tales about man’s best friend.
I picked up Susan Wilson’s novel The Dog Who Saved Me at the beginning of summer after being mesmerized by the cover. At 339 pages it is a moderate read that I was hoping to dip in and out of at the pool and running errands around town.
Cooper Harrison’s K9 partner Argos is killed in action, and trying to run from the grief and destruction it has caused in his life he ends up back in his hometown of Harmony. There he meets a stray: a tiny wisp of a pup that is halfway to feral and on death’s door thanks to a gunshot wound. As Animal Control officer he must figure out what has happened in this dog’s past, and maybe on the way find himself.
I didn’t have high expectations for the book, but I ended up liking it way more than I thought. Although it is set in the small town of Harmony, Maine, the book has a rural Southern feel and could have just as easily been set in the deep South, or any small town across the country. The story is told from multiple perspectives with a liberal dash of flashbacks. Cooper Harrison, his father Bull, and the dog all tell their own parts which adds some variety and texture to the plot. The character development was predictable, but that did not take away from the story.
Although the story is centralized around man’s best friend, there was strong emphasis on the human relationships so that the dog was only a part of the plot. Wilson’s book focuses on the themes of trust and power, and how our past shapes us. Notable was the convoluted relationship Cooper has with his family, and the fact that it is not always black and white when it comes to the people we grow up with.
Warning: Passages about the history and mistreatment of the dog are visceral and real, so those people who have a difficult time confronting animal cruelty should avoid the book. I volunteer at our local Humane Society so what I read in the novel closely matches to my experiences with cases at the shelter, but I have to commend Wilson on her writing and the strong case it makes for pet rescue and adoption. She brought a harsh reality of the things some animals go through to the public eye, and I would encourage you to not turn a blind eye even though it may be uncomfortable.
The writing of the book was quick and readable, charming in its simplicity. The sentences flow smoothly, so that the ideas are distilled. The reader does not become stalled in eloquent and poetic descriptions, but rather is able to focus on the heart of the story. It is a book to sit a while with and absorb, not one that you can slip in and out of in bite-sized pieces. I devoured this book chapters at a time, rather than the paragraphs interspersed throughout the day as originally intended. The thrust of the book and its setting will appeal to those who enjoyed Fredrik Backman’s Beartown. Overall 3.5/5 stars.
Does this book sound up your alley?
Do you have any pups in your life? One dog that made a difference? What’s your favorite dog story/book? Hands down Where the Red Fern Grows breaks my heart every time!