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'A Man of His Own' by Susan Wilson: A dog-human story that'll tug at your heart

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A Man of His Own by Susan Wilson

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Susan Wilson writes dog stories like no one else (except W. Bruce Cameron as in "A Dog's Journey"). "One Good Dog" is still one of my all-time favorite books. "A Man of His Own" is Wilson's most recent book, and sure enough, there is a fabulous dog in it. Pax, a German shepherd mix, is rescued by Rick Stanton when he is just a puppy and his mother, a stray, dies and leaves him alone.

The story centers around people who love the dog, as well as the dog himself. The story is told in third person limited narrative most of the time. Francesca, Rick's wife, tells the story in first person narrative, and later another woman uses the same first person narrative for her brief part of the story. It's a little disconcerting at first to read a few chapters in third person and then one in first person.

It's a story of love. There's the love that Rick feels for Pax, which is returned many times over by Pax. Rick is his hero, and as anyone who has rescued a dog knows, that worship is almost palpable. It's real and it can be humbling.

When Rick meets and falls in love with Francesca, Pax slowly adds her to their small family. So when WWII begins and Rick is called to service, their happy life dissolves. Rick had been a baseball player and he had just worked his way up to the majors. He was on the brink of becoming a star.

He goes to war with everything, and comes back with body and soul crushed. In the meantime, Francesca has volunteered Pax to be a military dog when there were not enough trained dogs in the military. Pax, understandably, is distraught to be taken away from Francesca and the home he has loved.

The other main character, Keller Nicholson, goes to war with nothing, and comes back with a dog he loves more than anything he has ever loved. He became Pax's handler during the war and Pax saved his life. He doesn't know how he can give Pax back to his family.

The meeting of these characters forms the crux of the book. Keller ends up staying with the Stantons and helping with Rick, who is confined to a wheelchair.

The story is well-told, and the dog is one that every reader will love. A few minor quibbles are that perhaps because of the many characters and their viewpoints, the reader doesn't feel as if any of the characters are quite real. Keller is the most fleshed out character -- perhaps because of his life of hardship, and the fact that he had nothing good in his life until he met Pax.

Also, Wilson does a lot of "telling" instead of "showing." That bogs down the writing at times, and the narration feels a bit stilted because of it. When Wilson does use dialogue and action to move the plot forward, it's done very well.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by St. Martin's Press for review purposes.

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