Hamilton (Shiloh to Durham Station, 2011, etc.) teams up with his artistic grandson to deliver a fictionalized account of the life and times of the family’s beloved dog, Spade.
A family adopts and brings to its Michigan farm an 8-week-old black Labrador retriever, Sir Spade of Hamilton. Father trains Spade in basic obedience, teaching him to fetch and retrieve downed birds. But the playful young pup doesn’t always follow the rules: Spade’s first misadventure sees him sneaking off the farm to the local schoolyard, where he’s captured by the dogcatcher. Subsequent exploits include accidentally eating a whole baseball (requiring an unhappy visit to the vet), defending his property from intruding dogs, a smelly encounter with a skunk and spending an entire summer hostage to a local hermit. At one point, Spade even manages to subdue a troublesome motorcycle gang, holding the ringleader down until the sheriff arrives. As he grows from puppy to seasoned canine, Spade spends less time tearing around the property with the three Hamilton sons and more time lying on the porch beside Father’s chair. His love for the family, however, never falters. The author tells the story of Spade’s life in a series of vignettes that offer brief glimpses into the dog’s mind. This narrative technique will, obviously, require readers to suspend their disbelief, although the story doesn’t do much to assist. Extremely anthropocentric turns of phrase often knock readers out of the book’s conceit. Additionally, rambling descriptions of events detract from the story. Illustrator Hamilton’s artwork is inconsistent in quality; some drawings are detailed and realistic, others struggle with perspective. However, they enliven this amusing if uneven tale.
An entertaining story that doesn’t quite meet the challenge posed by its narrative structure.