cover image THE CANINE CONNECTION: Stories About Dogs and People

THE CANINE CONNECTION: Stories About Dogs and People

Betsy Hearne, . . S&S/McElderry, $15.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-689-85258-9

Hearne (Eliza's Dog) hits her stride in a dozen, mostly finely crafted stories that explore the bonds that people may forge with dogs. The author lavishes a talent for characterization on her human and animal protagonists alike, and she explores a spectrum of moods. Willa, the narrator of the first and wittiest entry, "Lab," loves strays of all sorts, and page by page she offhandedly introduces yet another member of her household menagerie: first Sinbad the Labrador retriever, then Lucy the duck (Sinbad's best friend), three abandoned kittens, a one-eyed, middle-aged mutt and, finally, an old wolfhound mix. Shrewdly, Hearne uses Willa's relationships with her adoptees to illuminate her turbulent relationship with her mother, who, like her daughter, is prodigally nurturing; in one pivotal moment, Willa and her mother are not speaking because "she was pregnant with Number Five and I had reminded her once too often of the ethics of overpopulation." The plot line, about Willa's role in delivering "Number Five," follows a familiar pattern, but this story, like others here, profits from its predictability, in this case because it enhances Willa's unconsciously ironic narration. Other tales are unabashedly out to warm readers' hearts, and one or two to break them. "Bones," for example, eloquently speaks of a child's bond with his dog as the dog completes the life cycle (there is a brief scene in an abortion clinic, though the woman leaves before consulting with a doctor). A few entries make points less convincingly (e.g., a street tough who adopts a pit bull in "The Boss" is no more master of his fate than is the dog) but nonetheless sympathetically. Dog lovers are certain to find something satisfying within this expert collection. Ages 10-14. (Mar.)