Anne Calcagno has the unusual ability of getting into people's minds, feeling the pulse of their inner thoughts, without being sentimental or maudlin. She's is a dog psychologist, too, in this heart warming, beautifully written novel that will pull at your heartstrings. This is a story of love but it is also a social commentary, a sensitive weaving of the complex relationship of child and parent, boy and dog, boy and girl and goodness and evil. This is a novel about loyalty, it is a novel about emotions, and you will come away thinking that it is not animals that act like beasts, it is men. And you will come away enlightened about the Pit Bull terrier, a dog whose bad reputation is totally undeserved.
"Love like a Dog" is not a dog book per se but let me digress a minute: You will learn a lot about the pit bull as a competing dog, pulling immense loads in contests for strength, which requires great physical discipline of both dog and owner. Did you know Helen Keller had a pit bull and that the terrier icon of RCA's "His master's voice" is a pit? You will learn about breeding and Anne makes you understand perfectly the emotions of dog and master during the birth of puppies, an event not at all trivial. And you will learn about the horrors of staged dog-fighting, a crime all too prevalent in Chicago. You will learn about the psyche of this naturally friendly terrier who needs exercise and discipline. Calcagno's canine observations are interesting and they don't detract in any way from the story but help to flesh it out. This is a story of people and dogs entwined in a way that neither is complete without the other.
Dirk Sewell is a boy growing up in Chicago, a shy loner whose best canine friend is Bull's Eye, a pit bull rescued from a dumpster by Dirk's father . Dirk's mother had deserted when the boy was three. Dirk is intelligent and gifted at mathematics, but his blue collar father sneers at education. Fissures in their relationship get wider and wider until Dirk and his father are facing each other across a ravine. The novel follows Dirk as he grows up, as he copes with the vicissitudes of life. The boy becomes a man in this book and you will love him because he reminds you of your own son or the boy next door.
Anne Calcagno is a fine new voice, she has the essential gifts- the sensitivity, the insight, the talent to carry her far. One description she made in the book I keep thinking about: Dirk's father is talking to his son about his pregnant wife, Dirk's mother, who deserted the family:..."I didn't predict how she would catch a grain of sand inside her. Thinking she surrounded some secret pearl. She got bigger and bigger. I thought she was just big with you, Dirk...but you weren't the pearl she was after."