Saturday, 23 February 2008

Bones Would Rain From the Sky by Suzanne Clothier

Well, lookee here: Books and dogs.

An old Turkish proverb says that if a dog's prayers were answered, bones would rain from the sky. Subtitled Deepening Our Relationships With Dogs, Clothier expects that if we pay more attention to our furred friends, we can interpret their feelings and emotional states, achieving our training ends more easily and with the cooperation of our dogs.

Clothier, although she never calls herself that, is truly a dog whisperer. She can intuit a dog's logic and state of mind and form fast friendships sooner than we can say, "Fetch"!

Since I hardly know my own mind (something that she points out in the book) nor is my life my animals (besides umpteen dogs, Clothier and her husband farm cattle, goats, chickens, pigs and other critters), it is unlikely that I will be a star pupil. Still, I found the book useful.

The first half and the last quarter are mostly an account of Clothier's philosophy; Bones is not meant to train the trainer. The middle section, though, does have fairly concrete examples of some of her experiences with "aggressive" dogs. Between the examples and the philosophy, she gives the ordinary owner something to strive for. And she can be very amusing.

I would recommend that anyone with a dog read this, preferably before you are, again, seized with the urge to shout or, worse, hit. Not only will your dog make more sense to you, you will make much more sense to your dog.

Monday, 18 February 2008

March by Geraldine Brooks

A brilliant novel about Mr. March, the father of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. March is a dreamer and idealist thrust into the brutal action of the Civil War. As the year unfolds, he writes loving letters to his family while shielding them -- but not us -- from the worst of his war experiences. To himself and us, ruminates on his early life and shares his moral concerns.

The book would be a great story even without the Little Women connection, but it does manage to flesh out the character of Marmee who, as Brooks' mother noted, was too good to be true in the original. The other characters are there, too, the little women, Laurie, the neighbour boy and his tutor Mr. Brooks, Aunt March and others, peripheral to the story, but bringing a pleasing sense of recognition, something like greeting old, childhood friends.

March is based on Bronson Alcott and, in his reminisces we meet the New England intelligentsia/abolitionist community, the Thoreaus and the Emersons, encounter passengers on the UnderGround Railroad and get taken in by John Brown's schemes.

Did you know that Henry Thoreau invented an improved pencil? And I had certainly never heard of "contraband," slaves who came under Union control and fought for the Union or worked the plantations for pay under Northern lessees. I love novels like this, where you can trust the history because what isn't true is set out by the author.

And somehow it pleases me to find the Brooks is married to Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic and Blue Latitudes, and one of my favourite writers.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Facing the Wind by Julie Salamon

This is the story of a murder, a club for mothers of handicapped children, and a love story.

From the back cover:

Bob Rowe and his wife Mary worked hard to build their American dream. A suburban home, barbecues in the summer, and a fast track corporate job made their life look ideal to outsiders. Yet they faced one of the most difficult challenges for a couple: their son Christopher was born severely handicapped and disabled. As a family, they managed to navigate through the tough times by being hands-on parents. Their efforts were emboldened by a group of extraordinary women - all of whom also had disabled children - who acted as a support system for one another.

Then, one day, Bob killed first the three children and then Mary.

I found this book gave me real insight into a state of mind that could lead someone to kill his family "out of love." It also made "temporary insanity" something more than a legal plea.

I find it strange that not one reviewer was struck by what surely must have been the effects on Rowe of his driven nature and his harridan, carping mother. From a young age, Rowe was determined to be successful in his career, to achieve middle-class status, and have a storybook home and family. With perseverance and focus, he achieved his goals. He must have been a breakdown waiting to happen even before the trauma of dealing with one sick child and one severely handicapped child began to pile on more pressure. Adding public role model and a job crisis not of his own making to the stew, it could only have been a matter of time, And, unfortunately, it was.