One Good Dog by Susan Wilson
St. Martin’s Griffin/2010
Reviewed by: Sheri de Grom
One Good Dog by Susan Wilson is the story of Adam, a self-made man, and his immediate self-destruction, to include: losing his socialite wife and their only daughter, losing his chance of becoming the next President and CEO of Dynamic Industries (a position that would have been his within the year). His wife’s attorneys have taken his fortune for her support and that of their daughter and his so-called friends have abandoned him.
We meet the dog early in the novel, in the prologue in fact, but Adam and the dog don’t meet until a third of the way into the read. Ms. Wilson treats the POVs of Adam and the dog by giving each his own voice in almost alternating chapters.
Until Adam and the dog meet, most of what we learn from the dog is about his past, how he survives, and why he’s like he is. It’s a fascinating approach in having the dog’s voice throughout the novel, instead of waiting to introduce him when he and Adam meet.
Adam no longer lives in a gated community. He’s in a one-bedroom apartment with linoleum on the floor instead of marble. He’s been living in nice hotels but his accountant had the nerve to tell him he can no longer afford such luxuries.
. . .Pg29[“Afford?” For some reason, Adam is stuck on that word. It has been thirty-five years since the word afford and its ugly stepsister, economize, have been used against him, and then by one of his foster families with an electrical bill in his hand.] . . .
Each day is the same for Adam. He no longer dresses in a suit tailored exclusively for him but throws on whatever he can find to walk across the street to purchase his daily papers, large coffee, and peanut butter crackers which have become his breakfast of choice.
Next to the newsstand where Adam buys his newspaper and coffee each morning is a tropical fish store and he’s watched the same woman open and close it each day. Today, he finally speaks to her and establishes that he’s a human being.
Adam’s self-destruction cost him a court appearance and thus a sentencing. Once a prominent businessman, his case was fodder for the media and now he has the sentencing to face.
There’s no one in court to support Adam. No one to care if he goes to jail or receives a large fine.
The judge sentences him to two years probation and one year community service, plus assigning him court costs, monetary damages, and counseling.
. . .Pg47 In chambers, the judge addresses Adam, [“March, you may think that you’ve gotten off lightly, I could have given you jail time. Probably should have. But I think that your biggest issue isn’t violence, but arrogance. I’ve seen the shrink’s report, know that you acted out of some sort of emotional self-defense, but the truth is, you’re an arrogant son of a bitch and you need to be taken down a peg.”]
The judge tells Adam to report to Bob Carmody at the Fort Street Center Monday morning. Adam is to do whatever Bob tells him to do and report back to the judge in six months.
The Fort Street Center is in the worst part of town and serves homeless men, providing a hot meal, a gathering place, and—for twenty of them—a place to sleep.
. . . Pg65[Homelessness is not a word that Adam thinks about with any degree of interest. To him, a “homeless man” is a bum, a street person, a schizophrenic off his meds. A panhandler. An annoyance. Someone to dodge as he goes down the street, much like a stray dog. Might be diseased or drunk. Shaking empty paper cups, begging for coffee money. Giuliani got rid of the squeegee men in New York, so why couldn’t this city find a way to get the street people off the street?]
Adam thinks Bob will be overjoyed to have a man familiar with business at his disposal. Maybe the worst that will happen is he’ll research grants or keep the books.
Shock sets in when Bob not only doesn’t offer him a place to sit down but proceeds to tell him . . . Pg70[Bob cuts him off with a teacher’s gesture. “We follow a strict protocol of confidentiality. We don’t know what happened to these guys; we don’t rehab, counsel, or criticize. We just feed ‘em, wash ‘em, if they’ll have it; bunk ’em, if they want; and street ‘em. They don’t live here. They can come and stay, but this is a way station. Capice?”]. . .
Adam tries to tell Bob that he has some ideas but Bob readily tells him no ideas are necessary. Adam is to suit up and report to Rafe in the kitchen.
Rafe is not an ordinary cook and from the way he enunciated cordon bleu linked to street talk, Adam suspects other influences in Rafe’s life. But, for now, Rafe tells him what to do and when to do it.
. . .Pg79[The Front Street Center, whether he likes it or not, has become the centerpiece of Adam’s day. It is the only thing, five days a week, that gets him out of the house, and most days it provides the only nourishment he gets. Cheese crackers and coffee from the newsagent in the morning, scotch at night.]. . .
Adam and the dog haven’t met yet but Chapter Twelve is in the dog’s voice. He’s been picked up by animal rescue. The following paragraph is classic in my opinion—the dog is a pit bull mix!
. . .[The key is, behave like a Labrador. Let them stick that fake hand into your food dish and not react. Bring the stupid ball back and drop it in their laps. Pretend that fake kid is a real child and all you want to do is lick its face, protect it from harm. Drool a little. Give ‘em your best play bow. Oh yeah, I was totally socialized.]. . .
The seasons pass and Adam realizes he’s in the system just as much as the men he serves lunch too.
His divorce is final three days before Christmas and visitation with his teenage daughter, Ariel, might as well not have been stipulated. She refuses to have fun with him or stay over at his apartment. The devoted child he once knew is also gone.
The worst snowstorm the city has had in years hits but Adam didn’t think about not going to the center. He’s surprised and overwhelmed with emotion when Rafe and Bob both show their approval. It’s been a long time since anyone has approved of anything he’s done.
The storm rages and the shelter allows as many men as possible to sleep inside. Some had to lean up against walls; there wasn’t room for everyone to lay down.
One of the regulars, Jupiter, is missing. It’s been twenty-four hours since anyone has seen him or his dog. Bob makes hourly phone calls to the police looking for him. He finally asks Adam if he’ll do him a favor and check the mental ward at the hospital to see if Jupiter is there. Bob tells Adam who to speak with so he can get the information he needs.
Not only is Jupiter at the hospital but he too has a favor to ask Adam. Jupiter needs Adam to find his dog. Adam tries to talk him out of it but the only way Jupiter is going to stay in the hospital is if Adam promises.
. . .Pg124[“I’m here to find a guy’s dog. He’s in the hospital.” Adam had waited three days before beginning to hunt for Jupiter’s dog.] . . .He had no idea an animal shelter could smell so bad.
Of course the shelter wants to know what kind of dog it is and Adam thinks back to seeing Jupiter and the dog on the street. He’d paid little attention to the dog. “Maybe this high,” he muttered. Adam wasn’t sure of the color or breed. Perhaps a pit bull.
. . .Pg129[They have come to the end of the line. One dog remains, but Adam has already come to the conclusion that Jupe’s dog is long gone. He’s about to ask if there’s another shelter in the city, when he sees the last dog. This one is in a short run instead of a cage. There is nothing in it but the dog and a water bowl, as if he’s just in there for a change of scenery. As if he might be leaving shortly. As if he’s at the end of the line.]. . .
The vet at the shelter caves and allows Adam to pay the adoption fee and makes him sign that he’ll follow the rules and regulations.
Jupiter is at the homeless shelter when Adam goes there to tell Bob he has the dog. Unfortunately, Jupiter knows the dog isn’t his Benny and falls apart crying.
. . .Pg134[Adam swallows hard. His chest feels as hollow as the Tin Man’s. He can hear his pulse in his ears; he knows that he’s got to take charge of the moment but he’s stuck. He feels the dog nudge his leg as if to say, let’s get out of here.]. . .
Adam has only a vague notion of how to take care of a dog. His canine communication skills are seriously lacking. He tries to return the dog to the shelter but they are closed for an extended time.
Weeks pass and Adam and the dog become more accustomed to each other. The dog puts structure in Adam’s day. They go for long walks and Adam becomes more social. He routinely talks with the regulars in his neighborhood and makes friends with Gina, the owner of the Tropical Fish Store across the street.
Adam finally gives up on returning the dog to the shelter. Somehow, together, they’ve bonded. The dog doesn’t have a name yet—but—he will. Someday, Adam will really become a volunteer at the shelter instead of doing community service and someday all will be right in the world of One Good Dog by Susan Wilson.
I recommend One Good Dog without reservation. Susan Wilson has accurately portrayed the angry, tough, cruel world of both homelessness and pit bull fighting. She’s also brought damaged humans and animals alike to the pages of her novel and given them the grace of humor and a heart for us to cheer for and love in the process.
If for no other reason, One Good Dog is a must read—the POV of the dog and his power to rescue a man is powerful. This story is one of loneliness of both man and dog and how they come to depend on each other and the love that grows between them.