For a portion of Susan Wilson’s latest “feel good” book, ONE GOOD DOG, it’s quite possible that you won’t feel good at all while reading it. In fact, you might want to pummel the main character senseless. Then pummel him some more.
Why? Aside from being the to-be President and CEO of a gigantically corporate cosmetic firm, 46-year-old Adam March is arrogant, intolerant and selfish. He only eats fancy granola imported from Norway. And he has willingly married a vapid social climber obsessed with “being seen” and “supporting the right charities” while flitting between one of their three houses equipped with countless underpaid servants, driving the “best and most current automobiles --- gas be damned,” and wearing the most “fashion-forward clothes and legitimate designer accessories” on the racks. But these grating qualities can all be attributed to Adam before his nervous breakdown and subsequent downfall (he physically attacks his secretary for being insubordinate, gets fired and loses everything). After that? If you can stomach it, Mr. March actually gets even more loathsome.
When the judge sentences Adam to a lengthy stint of community service at a homeless shelter instead of doling out jail time (“You’re an arrogant son of a bitch and need to be taken down a peg… You need to eat a little humble pie, and I’m about to serve you a big bite.”), it’s hard not to feel at least a little disappointed for a missed opportunity. The guy is a pompous blowhard, to put it mildly. Why not give him what he deserves? But as the plot moves forward, it’s clear that Adam has been handed his just reward. It’s time he learned how the other half lives. And that’s when the scruffy pooch of the title makes his entrance.
In semi-alternating chapters, the narrative voice switches from the somewhat detached third-person (Adam’s chapters) to a more natural first-person (the dog’s), and readers are treated to the humble story of a Pit Bull (aptly named Chance) redeemed. Once a fighter in a dog ring, Chance gleefully embraces his brief stretch of freedom as a street hound (Delectable smells abound! Other dogs’ crotches to sniff! Poles to pee on everywhere!) before suddenly being recaptured and sent to the pound. When Adam rescues Chance from certain death as a favor to one of the homeless shelter’s regulars, Adam’s and the dog’s fates are irrevocably intertwined. And thank goodness for that.
Instead of giving Chance back to the pound like he had planned, Adam begrudgingly keeps him. The more he communes with the dog, the kinder and more generous a person he becomes. Soon, he's turning over all sorts of new leaves in an attempt to become "a better person." Despite a sometimes predictable and tidy plotline, ONE GOOD DOG is rewarding --- and that's mostly thanks to Chance. Readers (especially fans of MARLEY & ME) will adore his spunky personality and root for his (and ultimately Adam's) rehabilitation. In the end, Wilson's uncanny channeling of this scrappy misunderstood dog with a heart of gold strikes just the right chord to overshadow any of the book's shortcomings.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on January 13, 2011
One Good Dog