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Tue November 6, 2007
Cormac: The Tale of a Dog Gone Missing
Dog books are a genuine subgenre. There is no parallel category for cat books, as cats will not bring you your slippers or newspaper, greet you enthusiastically when you come home from work, ride in the car with their heads out the window, or keep you company while you write book reviews. Cats have made their choice. They are famous for being aloof and needing nobody. Fine, they just won't get many books written about them.
By Don Noble
Books about one's dog fall into what is as close to a no-fail category as it is possible to get in these overcrowded publishing days. Write a book about getting thin, coming out of rehab, finding religion (or in this case your lost dog), and you are halfway home. Dog books are a genuine subgenre. There is no parallel category for cat books, as cats will not bring you your slippers or newspaper, greet you enthusiastically when you come home from work, ride in the car with their heads out the window, or keep you company while you write book reviews. Cats have made their choice. They are famous for being aloof and needing nobody. Fine, they just won't get many books written about them.
Cormac, Sonny Brewer's dog, is a dark red Golden Retriever. His face is on the cover of this book, and it is clear he is a terrific dog. The reader believes it entirely when Sonny Brewer of Fairhope writes that he and his family were heartbroken to learn that Cormac had gone missing. Heartbreak quickly merged with frustration because Brewer was just then on a two-week book tour with The Poet of Tolstoy Park, his first novel, and couldn't get right home to conduct the search. His friends did all they could though, checking the animal shelters and putting up signs. When Brewer returned, he began to follow leads, interviewing neighbors and gathering clues. Cormac was last seen in a red pick-up truck, perhaps being dognapped.
This book, then, is something of a mystery story. What had taken place? Cormac had in fact run away, but only a short distance, because he was frightened by a thunderstorm. Then, there had been foul play.
Brewer tells the reader, in the course of this book, how he chose Cormac from a litter, how he and his boys bonded with the retriever, how an electronic fence was installed to keep him from straying, and how Cormac was the writer's constant companion through the long days of writing that first novel.
This book is in fact told in the form of a novel "based on a true story," but it needn't have been. Brewer was overly scrupulous. Since three years had gone by, he had forgotten some details, I suspect unimportant ones, but after the Frey fiasco over A Million Little Pieces and the dust-up with Oprah, why not just call it a novel? So, he tells his friends, "if you think you see yourself here, but you believe you are certainly thinner or smarter than I've described, remember: this is a dog's tale, and any resemblance to persons alive or dead is purely coincidental."
By the way, Cormac was in fact named for the great writer, winner of last year's Pulitzer, Cormac McCarthy, but Brewer had gone to the trouble of looking up the origins of McCarthy's name: Cormac MacArt, king of County Meath, Ireland, in the third century, who was known to be "wise, learned, valiant, and mild." Now that's a name worthy of a king or a writer or a good dog.
I must confess I did not expect to be much taken with this book. There had been Old Shep and Old Yeller and then Willie Morris started an avalanche of books with My Dog Skip, which actually became a movie and started at least one acting career. But this story is told with such warmth and sincerity (bordering on sentimentality occasionally when Brewer shares his pet names for Cormac, like "doggins"), that I was drawn in. This is a book about family, friends, and small-town life, including the unsuspected wicked witch down the street. It is so charming that I can only wish it well. Willie Morris, who had fallen on hard times, followed My Dog Skip with a book about his cat, My Cat Spit McGee. I hope Sonny Brewer doesn't even have a cat.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.