Lyrical memoir of an adventurous New England journalist and his trusty canine companion.
Ryan spent many years single-handedly owning and operating the Undertoad, a newspaper covering the police and political beats (and their interrelated improprieties) in eccentric Newburyport, Mass. (“Norman Rockwell meets Alfred Hitchcock”). The author’s journalistic exposure of local scandals didn’t sit well with folks in power, however, and he feared violent retribution. Quelling his paranoia was the “commitment” of adopting an older miniature schnauzer. Sadly, his time with that pet lasted less than a year, but spurred him to adopt schnauzer pup Atticus Maxwell Finch. After a frustrating training period, Ryan and Atticus struck a harmonious human-animal rapport, a uniquely interactive relationship the author clearly reveled in. A few tastes of majestic New Hampshire mountain climbing with his brothers brought back fond memories of better days with his estranged father, a haunting presence throughout the memoir. That family hike challenged Ryan to scale all 48 of the White Mountain range’s 4,000-foot peaks in 90 days with a dog Ryan fondly writes was “made for the mountains.” The experience became therapeutic, transformative and spiritually enlightening for both. Without regret, Ryan retired the newspaper and, in honor of cancer victim Vicki Pearson, galvanized himself and Atticus to, again, hike the 48 peaks (twice!) as a cancer fundraiser. Rivetingly portrayed, both valiantly braved the vicious winter elements (Atticus in booties and bodysuit), but the dog’s darker days were only just beginning. There’s immense pathos in the frank depiction of the author’s turbulent relationship with his father, both in describing his physical abuse as a youth or finding forgiveness in adulthood.
In befriending Atticus and carrying his father’s memory to those serene mountain peaks, Ryan admits he discovered a rare peacefulness, a quality that underscores this touching chronicle.