By: Sonny Brewer
Reviewed by: Catherine Alexander
$17, Hardcover; $13, Paperback
Sonny Brewer’s third novel departs from his previous forays into fiction. The events that unfold are not merely musings on a scenario, but based on real-life experiences surrounding the disappearance of Cormac, the Brewers’ much beloved family dog, and the ensuing search that becomes a quest. With a surprising mix of complicated situations, intrigue, loss, hope, and immediacy, the text engages the reader beyond mere interest. The reader becomes invested and suddenly this story matters, carrying the importance of a rewritten allegory of The Prodigal Son, ultimately through redemption and salvation. This novel touches the tender sensibilities that surround love, loss, and hope without wandering down the worn path of clichéd sentiments.
Brewer finds the truth of his experience through fiction, not memoir. This approach allows Brewer to develop a plot, a thing that can be wanting in a journalistic, just-the- facts-ma’am style, that pervades nonfiction accounts. Brewer clearly presents a novel that is textured and rich. The imaginative details blend seamlessly (sometimes too perfectly) within the novel to create a page-turner out of what could have been a simple short story.
This is a dog’s tale. Cormac speaks through the pages of Brewer’s narrative, a risky move that is well-executed, unexpectedly revealing faith through despair while infusing the text with a decidedly canine sensibility.
Following the advice of a fortune cookie, Brewer chooses to “live out of [his] imagination, not out of [his] memory” and writes from his imagination coupled with an eye toward the story rather than strict facts: “In this book I have done that. I think of Huck Finn telling us that we did not know him unless we’d read Mr. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. ‘There were things which he stretched,’ Huck said, ‘but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another…’ Same here.”
Imagination brings the magic to this story, the magic that Brewer seeks in books. “I had believed for decades that book writers breathe rarefied air so laced with the bearded sorcerer’s most powerful and sparkliest dust that they become transubstantiated into different beings,” he writes. “I really thought sometimes that I had opened a bookstore for proximity to the magic.” This proximity has its desired effect for Brewer as he bends the rules of the memoir and the novel to create a hybrid that is both fiction and nonfiction. The beauty of it is that he captures the truth of his, and Cormac’s, experience so compellingly that the text is sublime.
Catherine Alexander writes from Montevallo.