In Print : One Good Dog
A Man and His Dog Redeem Each Other
(310 pages, St, Martin's Press, $22.95, March 2 release at Bunch of Grapes and Edgartown Books)
"One Good Dog" is a great book and looks to be a literary success for author Susan Wilson of Oak Bluffs, author of four other novels.
One of them, "Beauty," a sequel to the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, was made into a television movie. Her column, The Last Word, appears regularly in the Martha's Vineyard Times.
We love our dogs in these parts. Recent literary proof includes Oak Bluffs resident Kate Feiffer's children's book called "Henry the Dog with No Tail." Cape resident Spencer Quinn (aka Peter Abrahams) last year published "Dog Gone It," a puckish adult mystery featuring a canine sleuth named Chet, the novel's narrator. Ms. Wilson has also written an adult novel, using a man and a dog as parallel narrators.
Adam March is wildly successful and affluent, an arrogant corporate jerk who falls from grace after an office meltdown leads him to assault his personal assistant on the day he is to grab the brass ring at Boston megacorp, Dynamic Industries. Criminal charges, a pink slip, divorce, and shunning immediately follow.
Mr. March's money also disappears, and a rapid decline removes him from a posh suburban gated community and deposits him in a gritty downtown neighborhood closely resembling the poor side of the tracks in the Boston's South End. He is not amused by his sentence of a year's community service in a soup kitchen for the assault, and when he shows up in his Lexus and offers to write grants for the center, he is directed to the dishwashing station.
Mr. March is without hope, looking down at his bottom. His soon-to-be new best friend is already at canine bottom, but he is looking up. The unnamed pit bull, living in a tenement cellar where he was born and trained to fight, is making the best of his situation. He hopes things will get better.
The narrators share a common life view. Both believe that power, control, and emotional self-sufficiency are critical to survival and success. They meet, they bond, and begin learning from each other how to live well.
Ms. Wilson offers subplots, connected to their lives, which explore the value of friendship and the importance of mentoring as well as familial and romantic relationships in both human and animal life.
The book is taut, with a whiff of allegory, a well-paced story of the human condition, of death and resurrection.
"The book is a departure in the sense that I've never had a male protagonist," Ms. Wilson told The Times last week. "The themes of love, relationship and redemption are the same as in my other novels."
A word to the cynical reader about the use of a dog as narrator: it works here. Ms. Wilson deftly avoids egregious anthropomorphism. Instead, her canine character remains in the doggy realm. He is sentient, but he does not speak or understand human language other than a few commands. He communicates with sounds and lots of body language that humans often don't understand and other dogs always understand. He is believable.
The protagonists behave according to the fundamental difference between animals and humans. The dog lives in the present, as dogs do. He is a cause-and-effect guy. His human, March, spends too much of his time in the past and in the future, as many of us do.
In the course of plot twists and turns, we begin to see the similarities between man and beast. Both were raised on the underside of their societies. Mr. March was abandoned as a blue-collar five-year-old and bounced through 13 foster homes before ending up at the Harvard Business School and a starry, self-determined career.
His dog was raised in a basement, abused and unloved, and became more savage, a killer. He also had a successful career.
Both characters have a lifelong commitment to detachment based on their life experiences. In "One Good Dog," they teach each other, in fits and starts, how to trust and relate to their fellow travelers.
March learns slowly to follow the old saying: Try to be half the man my dog thinks I am.
Ms. Wilson and her husband, David, are the parents of two daughters and the adoptive parents of Bonnie, a hound of apparently sketchy origins, whose photo appears at SusanWilsonWrites.com.
Publisher St. Martin's Press has high hopes for "One Good Dog." As a result, Ms. Wilson spends a lot of time on her blog and website these days. "I'm a routinized person, writing for an hour and a half every morning," she said. "These days I'm working on the blog, getting ready for the book launch. I'll be back to normal, working on the next project, in a few weeks."
Normal also includes Ms. Wilson's monthly column in The Times, a job at the Martha's Vineyard Museum, and editing the Intelligencer, the museum's quarterly publication. "I'm going to keep my jobs for the foreseeable future," she said. "I like them, and I enjoy the steady paycheck."