A short, sweet novel from Smith (Murder on the Trap, 2011, etc.) about the mysterious relationship between man and beast.
When Bill hears the cries of a wounded dog coming from a dark, swampy area of his rural property, he feels compelled to help. In doing so, he sets off a chain of mystical events in which the animals of the bog start behaving very oddly indeed. Oddest of all, Bill hears a wolf speak to him. Initially inclined to deny the experience, Bill is lured back to the bog by his longing to understand the true nature of dogs: is it possible they could speak with humans? Do they have souls? The rest of the book revolves around Bill’s attempts to answer these questions, with Christian themes shaping the narrative. Bill, who is particularly disturbed by the Bible’s apparent claim that dogs cannot go to heaven, struggles to reconcile Christian teachings with his belief that dogs are “a species that was personally selected by God to watch over us.” Bill’s musings are folksy and conversational, sprinkled with homespun wisdom: “Expectations are like the edge of a mountain we force ourselves to walk to…not knowing until we get there whether we’ll take that extra step or not.” Such asides and digressions drag the narrative down at times, taking readers out of the action at crucial moments. The plot itself is straightforward and never builds much tension; the story’s momentum is derived more from Bill’s internal spiritual journey than from his experiences out in the bog. That journey, though, is sincere and thoughtful. Bill’s love of dogs and other animals is affectingly immense; he even suggests an amendment to the Bible to provide for the afterlives of dogs. Animal lovers concerned with the same Christian dilemmas will be especially drawn to Bill’s story, but any reader may find bits of inspiration. “How,” Bill asks, “would your world…be affected if, upon waking tomorrow morning, there were no dogs in the world?” It’s a question that will speak to many, and Smith’s book is a worthwhile meditation on its answer.
A passionate ode to dogs and their people, with little plot and lots of heart.