A powerful debut collection of eight stories (two previously published in Story magazine) that are linked thematically: They're all about man and dog, though not in any sappy sense, and with no cute anthropomorphizing. In ""Bill,"" an octogenarian feels closer to her dying poodle than to her own family, and cooks up a grand feast the night before he's put to sleep; in ""Agnes of Bob,"" a childless widow realizes that her husband cared more about his dog, Bob, than about her, and the dog's presence reminds her of the emptiness in her marriage; in ""A Blessing,"" a pregnant woman is disabused of any cute notions about dogs when a trip to the country to buy one ends with an act of brutality. No sentimentality mars these gritty narratives. ""The Wake"" is a wildly implausible piece about a bachelor whose ex-girlfriend returns to him in a box via UPS. He's more concerned with the dead dog now rotting under his house than with her, his obsession offering a deliberately unsubtle correlative to a failed relationship. ""Seeing Eye,"" a vignette about a dog working for a blind man, compares its present life of responsibility to its former life roaming free on a farm. The full resonance of one of Watson's dominant themes (men-as-dogs, elemental in their needs, faithless in their couplings) emerges in the three best stories. ""The Retreat"" finds a few soon-to-be divorced men hiding out in the country, drinking, hunting, sloughing off responsibility. ""Kindred Spirits"" layers the metaphorical relationships in its story-within-a-story about a dog tracking a wild boar in the Florida swamp. The tale turns into a not very subtle parallel to the narrator's present cuckolding by his business partner. The title piece is an elegy to a dog-like life of wildness, freedom, animalism no longer available to men. Watson's muscular prose stands shoulder to shoulder with the best cracker realists, from Faulkner to Larry Brown.