Monday, April 13, 2009

For the Love of Dogs

Suzanne Woods Fisher
Vintage (2009)
ISBN 9780981559292
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (2/09) 

I've always thought that good writing in many ways resembles a magic trick. Just think about it – a flick of the wrist with a magic wand and a white rabbit emerges from the previously empty top hat… a flick of the wrist while turning a page and one can plunge into a totally new and different world, one whose existence was a total mystery before.

Suzanne Woods Fisher's "For the Love of Dogs" is an encouraging and deeply wise book. It's a book which teaches you how to put things in perspective, how balance matters most and how good things can emerge from events that look desperately horrible at first. It is a book about love, about forgiveness, about wisdom in many forms and first and foremost, it's a book about trust.

Samantha and Kathleen, the twins who were raised by their grandparents while their parents worked as missionaries, are doing quite well, managing The Running Deer, a ranch devoted to the production of olive oil. It's the days of Woodstock and the man first landing on the moon, so the benefits of the olive oil are not so well known yet. In spite of that, the ranch is getting a lot of national recognition and even receives a couple of important awards. While on the surface all looks smooth, there are a lot of undercurrents threatening to destroy the idyll. First of them is Samantha's near blindness, which is progressing rapidly. While Samantha manages nicely with the help of a cane, she is all too well aware that one day soon the last shreds of her vision will be gone, yet she refuses to get a service dog. Her new neighbor, Jack, who trains them, is just too annoying for words, and she will not admit that she needs help. After finally giving in and learning to trust – and what a hard lesson that was! – Samantha returns to the ranch and finds it in utter turmoil. Her twin has a miscarriage and sinks into deep depression, her beloved grandmother, Nonna, is clearly getting befuddled and her brother-in-law, Pete, is being threatened by two hoodlums. It will take a lot of courage, wisdom and even more trust for Samantha to disentangle the twisted mess and see the things as they really are.

In addition to the well constructed and multi-layered story, which drew me in within minutes, it was the author's strength in creating strong, likeable and well-rounded characters. Nobody's too good to be believable, and everybody shows at least some weaknesses. Each of them has a distinctive voice, which goes double for the sweet Etienne Number Five, the elderly Frenchwoman who delivers one of the most important messages in the book, "Everyzing iz a matter of balanz." The characters are so well built that I found myself even feeling sorry for the two hoodlums. Who could not feel sorry for somebody this inept?

I would love to see more books by Suzanne Woods Fisher in the future. Her messages about courage, trust in God, trust in others and keeping things in balance are important for all of us, and listening to them would make this world a better and sometimes easier place to live in.  "For the Love of Dogs" is an encouraging and deeply wise book.

Listen to interview with Suzanne Woods Fisher on Inside Scoop Live