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One Good Dog
St. Martin’s Press, 320 pp., 2010; $22.99

Adam March is having a bad time of life. So is an initially nameless Pit Bull mix sentenced to a life of dog-fighting. One Good Dog by Susan Wilson is the touching and wonderfully well-crafted story of how these two characters come together in the midst of their own respective worst of times.

Adam is living a life filled with the trappings of financial success: a high-powered job, expensive homes, a socially prominent wife and an equestrian daughter. That is, until a memory from his troubled past sets off a series of events that result in his carefully planned life crashing around him. At the same time that Adam is coping with living in a seedy one-bedroom apartment and serving court-ordered community service, the Pit Bull who will turn out to be the best part of this destiny is escaping from his own cage-bound existence. Through a realistic and suspenseful turn of events, the two at last meet, and Adam reluctantly becomes enamored of the dog he names, all too fittingly, Chance. At which point, let the healing begin.

The story is told through the alternating viewpoints of Chance and Adam, and the prologue to the novel includes a thoroughly charming bait-and-switch that instantly put a smile on my face and made me feel certain I was in excellent storytelling hands. Skillfully done, the chapters narrated by Chance never give way to cutesy or cloying. While some of the scenes in which the dog describes the squalid conditions of his young life and his training as a fighter are truly heartbreaking, Chance’s strong, clear-eyed way of looking at the world is perfectly conveyed in the way he tells his story. That’s not to say that Chance’s recounting is not above fun or whimsy. For example, Chance does not regard his vocalizations merely as barking. He yarks. When he endeavors to explain extreme intelligence, he does not cite rocket scientists nor brain surgeons but rather, Standard Poodles.

As the novel progresses, Wilson significantly ratchets up both the pace and the stakes with several new developments, including an especially tear-inducing arc involving Chance. Have tissues on hand and don’t say you weren’t warned. Ultimately, what One Good Dog manages to do so well is to create a reading journey that closely mirrors the path of its two resilient narrators: it comes this close to breaking your heart but then, at the last moment, fills it up with not only hope but also love. It’s a finely wrought story of second chances and also of the power of the human/canine bond, the amazing and myriad ways in which dogs can touch and make better people’s lives. As Chance himself so aptly puts it, “What else could I have done? I’m only canine, I had to help.”
 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 59: Apr/May 2010
Alison Pace is the author of four novels, including, Pug Hill and City Dog.
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