cover image Tales of Al: The Water Rescue Dog

Tales of Al: The Water Rescue Dog

Lynne Cox. Knopf, $27 (224p) ISBN 978-0-593-31937-6

The training of water rescue dogs gets a belabored treatment in this rambling blend of memoir, travelogue, and canine adventures from open-water swimmer Cox (Swimming in the Sink). As she relates, her obsession began unexpectedly, when, one day, she stumbled upon a video of a Newfoundland performing a rescue in Lombardy’s Lake Iseo: “I had never seen a dog leap from a helicopter... [or] a dog that courageous.” Immediately “transfixed,” Cox set off to learn more, reaching out to Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio—a school of rescue dogs that works with the Italian Coast Guard to help patrol Italian waters—and traveling to Northern Italy. While she recounts meeting and falling in love with the Newfoundland of the book’s title, a charming underdog, most of this is dedicated to meandering anecdotes about exercise and play, famous Newfoundlands—including one that saved 163 people from a wrecked ship in 1828—and memories of her own childhood pooches. The tone is buoyant, but, unfortunately, the prose is flat (reminiscing on her old Labrador, Cox writes, “Everyone in the neighborhood knew Cody. Everyone loved him and he loved everyone”), rendering even the most intriguing musings tiresome. The result is an initially promising account that ultimately feels lost at sea. (May)