Wednesday, February 1, 2017

All Dogs Go to Heaven...Sadly, in Fiction about Dogs, the Ending will Make You Tear Up

"Where the Red Fern Grows" by Wilson Rawls...

The author of this lovely, classic "dog story" was able to tell just one or two good stories; but it is a wonderful book.

In Mid-20th Century America, elderly Bill Colman leaves his office on a picture perfect day and sets off for home. On the way, he encounters a pack of scrapping dogs, attacking a lone old Redbone Coon Hound, obviously a stray. As Bill helps this dog, he remembers his long ago, turn of the century-era boyhood and his tender memories of a pair of this breed who captured his heart--and saved his life.

Young Billy is one of the best little "good souls" you will ever meet in fiction: he's smart, he loves his family, he helps his family, he works hard, he is determined, he is kind, unselfish and has a great sense of humor. His one passion is the desire for a pair of Redbone Coon Hounds so he can train them and hunt raccoons in the eastern Oklahoma hills where he lives. He applies his mind, heart and prayers; patiently, he works to earn the money to buy the dogs.

The writing is clear and simple, like the heart and spirit of the little boy. The descriptions of the puppies, once they arrive, are so endearing: you see, hear, smell and feel the warm squirming little bodies. The dogs have different personalities, key to the story. The adults in the story are mainly good and supportive, though sometimes not able to provide the child everything he wants--he has to work to achieve his goals.

I don't know how I missed this book all these years, since it was published in the early 1960's. Anyone who enjoys solid, authentic-feeling fiction could love this story. Some may object to the hunting: but raccoons are prolific and mostly, a pest; these were the only animals intentionally hunted. To me, this story is "up there" with "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the portrayal of the child narrator and the richness of the story. (But I think the book might be too intense for my 12 year old niece.)  Dog books always end with the death of the dog---that seems to be a rule: Love and Loss.

This is not a Redbone Coon Hound!

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