Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pet friendly

I am a sucker for the sentimental pet story (is anyone not?); unlike other sentiment, I don't feel manipulated by the story of a sad, unwanted creature finding (as the Oregon Humane Society says) his or her "forever home." Or rather, I do feel manipulated, but I don't mind it. Bring it on! And don't forget the hankies! After the minidramas of the past couple books, Ann M. Martin's Everything for a Dog was the perfect antidote for my crankiness and cynicism.

A couple of years ago, Ann M. Martin published the story of Squirrel in A Dog's Life: An Autobiography of a Stray. In that book, we met Squirrel's brother Bone, but the two puppies were separated early on, and we never learned Bone's story. In Everything for a Dog, we get that ... and more. After a bit of a rough start, Bone spends a short time as a house pet, but -- when his irresponsible owners (who have never heard of an animal shelter? Hello?) can't figure out what to do with him once their elderly father needs to move into the retirement home -- he ends up on the doggy road. Eventually, he wanders into young Henry's small town. Henry's best friend has recently moved away, and he thinks that having a dog will assuage some of his loneliness. He puts "dog" at the top of his Christmas list. But his parents are adamantly opposed to owning a dog, so Henry's overtures to the somewhat feral Bone have to take place secretly.

In addition to Bone and Henry's narratives, we also meet a boy named Charlie and his dog, Sunny. Charlie and Sunny are mourning the death of Charlie's older brother, R.J., and each is relying on the other for solace and company. Well, both boys don't get the dog, do they? The listener is pleasantly uncertain about where Bone is going to end up (because, of course, there's no doubt that Bone will find a home), and I -- for one -- was delighted at the way the three stories came together.

Everything for a Dog is narrated by David Pittu. About a year ago, I heard him read The Maze of Bones, and I like him better here. His voice has such warmth and compassion for the suffering of both Henry and Charlie -- a listener experiences real sadness. He reads with expression and lots of variety in his pacing. At some really sad parts, he gives us a moment to reflect. He doesn't do much voicing in this novel, just enough to help us keep the characters straight. It's easy to imagine yourself cuddled up with your dog, listening to Pittu's pleasant voice telling this story.

In a nice touch, though, he does voice Bone. When it's Bone's turn to tell his story, Pittu's voice lowers a register or two and becomes more gravelly. He never goes completely doglike -- no grrrs for words beginning with gr- because Bone isn't really doglike. He's fully anthropomorphized in this story, and Pittu's character interpretation shows that. This is a fine listen, for dog people, or not.

Portland prides itself on being really doggy friendly, to the dismay of some. (A friend of mine emailed that article to me under the category of the Department of Too Crunchy -- Portland division.) I'm a cat person myself. Still, cats don't have the same pride of place in the literary world. We read with them, but don't often read about them. Unless you're a Warriors fan (I hated that book!) ... but there's no human/cat happily ever after in those!

No comments: