Ed and Alice Parmalee still occupy the same ranch-style home they have lived in for years, but they have become unhappy, uncommunicative strangers since the death of their only child seven years earlier. Alice blames Ed for Stacy's suicide because he insisted that she receive medication for her severe depression. No one knows for sure if it was the side effects of the medication, or if Stacy had been determined to end her life anyway. Still, Ed receives the silent treatment from Alice. Forced into early retirement five years previously, he invents errands to get himself out of the house, away from Alice and her deep-seated grief. There are so many unresolved issues between Ed and Alice that the tension surrounding them is palpable. They both feel miserable, and neither can figure out how to change that.
"It is quite possible that readers will fall in love with the amazingly perceptive Sheltie, who can interpret a person's needs and feelings, and give love and companionship when and where it is most needed."
Justine is in fourth grade when her mother dies suddenly. Her father soon marries Adele, a divorced neighbor who sets her sights on the new widower and his assets. He always seems to take Adele's side in any problem that arises between Justine and her stepmother, and he shows favoritism to his stepson. Justine feels doubly abandoned: no mother, and now a father who never considers her needs. So, right after graduation, she strikes out on her own. A brief marriage and a child quickly follow and then Justine is on her own, working a series of jobs trying to support her son. Her relationships with men are rather haphazard and brief, because none of them seem interested in a woman with baggage --- in this case, a child.
Justine has sent her teenage son to live with his father for one summer, but then he refuses to return home when school begins. Once again, Justine is alone and adrift. Then she takes in a puppy named Mack, a Blue Merle Sheltie. He is an easy dog to train and gives her unconditional love and companionship. Justine teaches her furry partner how to dance, and they perform canine freestyle --- a form of dancing involving one person and one dog. The dance partners have a wonderful time performing, and Mack loves the cheers and applause.
A phone call out of the blue --- from Adele in New Bedford, near Boston, telling Justine that her father is dying --- sets the stage for what becomes a horrendously complicated cross-country journey. In order to take Mack with her and spend as little money as possible, Justine pays Arnie, a long-distance trucker, $300 to drive her and Mack from Seattle to New Bedford. Arnie abandons Justine at a truck stop near Cleveland and speeds off, not realizing the dog is still in the truck. When Arnie discovers Mack, the unpleasant man drags the dog from the truck and drop-kicks him down a steep embankment near the Massachusetts Turnpike. And the drama picks up tempo when a one-legged motorcyclist/violinist at the truck stop offers to help Justine try to catch up with the speeding truck.
Being a very well-trained dog, Mack waits for Justine at a spot that in his mind resembles the park where she used to take him. Mack feels certain that Justine will come back for him, so he waits and waits. Both Ed and Alice drive past the cemetery entrance and notice the Sheltie who seems to be waiting for someone. The next day, Alice returns to the cemetery, gains Mack's trust, feeds him, and takes him home.
Now there is a frantic owner trying to track down and locate by any means possible the 18-wheeler and its driver, and her dear dog. The Parmalees are trying --- but hoping not --- to find the dog's owner. They have dubbed the pooch Buddy, and although he enjoys the safety of their home as well as the Kibble and their kindness, he keeps waiting for Justine to come and take him home or for the Parmalees to take him to Justine. He tries to tell Ed and Alice what he wants, but they don't understand his subtle hints and suggestions any better than he understands most of their tongue language.
Justine narrates her part of the story. The Parmalees are discussed in the third person. And Buddy/Mack's thoughts and feelings naturally are translated so readers can understand him. The book, with all its twists and turns, will certainly hold their interest. It is quite possible that readers will fall in love with the amazingly perceptive Sheltie, who can interpret a person's needs and feelings, and give love and companionship when and where it is most needed.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on May 17, 2012
The Dog Who Danced