The Christmas Dog
by Melody Carlson
Revell - a division of Baker Publishing Group
rating: 3 out of 5
Shortly after Thanksgiving I saw several reviews of this book around the blogosphere: Julie of Booking Mama, Amy of My Friend Amy, Lesa of Lesa's Book Critiques, and Deborah of Books, Movies and Chinese Food. Not only did I decide to read this read holiday book because I implicitly trust the opinions of these experienced bloggers, but how could I possibly resist that "cute little doggie in the window" on the front cover. I ordered the book from my local library, and surprisingly I was able to read it prior to Christmas day.
If I were to sum this book up in one word it would be - Sweet. I realize that is not a high-level literary term, but this is really a sweet book and no other description will do.
The summary from the back cover reads:
Christmas miracles can come from unlikely sources.Betty Kowalski isn't looking forward to the holidays. She just can't seem to find Christmas in her heart. Maybe it's because her husband is gone. Maybe it's because she's missing her children. Or maybe it has something to do with her obnoxious new neighbor, who seems to be tearing his house apart and rearranging it on the lawn.But when a mangy dog appears at her doorstep, the stage is set for Betty to learn what Christmas is really all about.
Betty is definitely experiencing the holiday blues, and even contemplates selling the house she has lived in for decades to move closer to her daughter. While Betty tries to be the polite Christian neighbor and show kindness to those who are most difficult to love, she just doesn't seem to be getting through and is about ready to give up.
The unexpected surprise for Betty is not only the arrival of the mangy mutt - Ralph, but also her granddaughter Avery who has run away from home at the age of 23 and in search of acceptance. The story is the development of relationships in Betty's life: her relationship with Avery; her relationship with Jack, the back door neighbor; Jack's relationship with Avery; and everyone's relationship with Ralph.
Now, I am not only a sucker for any story that centers around our canine relations, but I also have a dog named Ralf whom I know could charm the socks off any Christmas scrooge. I must admit that at times I thought this story was more than a little predictable, but I think that is allowable for a holiday read. And while I tend to steer away from Christian fiction because of its tendency to be sappy and preachy, I did not find this message to be too pedantic for my taste.
There are two passages that I think adequately summarizes the message - and flavor - of this book:
Pastor Gordon leaned over the pulpit and paused, looking across the congregation as if he were about to disclose a great secret. "God's ways are higher than our ways, my friends." He held up a fist and raised his voice. "And God's love can come unexpectedly. It can rock your life and rattle your heart! Just like the world wasn't ready to receive God's love in the form of a child that was hurled from heaven to earth, we're not always ready to receive God's love. And we're not prepared to accept that it comes in a variety of ways. Often when we least expect it, God's love can show up in the form of something or someone we aren't happy to see - something or someone we want to push way or even run from. And, let me tell you, God's love can make us downright uncomfortable at times. Just like that newborn baby wailing in the night made some people in Bethlehem uncomfortable. and yet they needed him - desperately. And we need him. Desperately. Embrace God's love, my friends. Receive it. And then share it." (page 150)
"....as Betty followed him, she couldn't help but wonder how a little stray dog like that had wandered into their lives, or how he had attached himself to not just one person in need, but two. Make that three. And she considered how this little dog had brought them all together. Really, in some ways, it seemed nothing short of a miracle." (page 170)
I think if we are receptive to God's ways, he can always provide miracles in the most unexpected places --- but I personally would not be at all surprised to find that miracle living in the body of a friendly canine companion.
I have never read any of Melody Carlson's works before, but I understand that her book, The Christmas Bus, is definitely worth a read. I think I will check that one out next holiday season.