Monday, November 12, 2007

Wilson Rawls: Where the Red Fern Grows

I loved chatting over email with Amy Schimler about her dog Beans (see yesterday's interview), and it got me thinking about my favorite dog book of all time. We had to read Where the Red Fern Grows in 5th grade, and I have to admit I was completely dismayed that we had to read a "boy book." I struggled the whole time to distance myself from Billy, Old Dan, and Little Ann, probably flipping my permed hair and muttering "this is *so* stupid" and "who cares about a couple of dumb dogs?" under my breath about 20 times. But I remember sobbing at the end. Despite all my efforts, Wilson Rawls managed to draw me in to his story and make me care. How could you not?

Years later, Kevin and I drove cross-country and listened to Where the Red Fern Grows on audio book (*expertly* read by Anthony Heald I have to say). This time, with a fresh MFA under my belt, I listened to the language and storytelling. And I won't mince words: the book is a masterpiece. A classic coming of age story, told from the point of view of the adult looking back at his boyhood, but with all the intimacy and honesty and exuberance of youth. It's a story with joy, peril, hard truths. It's a story we can all relate to, even if we never had dogs or lived in the Ozarks or went hunting in our lives. It's a story about growing up.

I won't say more. Just go read it. Even if you're all "grown up" like me and you've read it before. Read it quietly to yourself in an afternoon, listen to the audio book, or read it aloud to a child. Get lost in the story. Cry at the end. It's worth it.

"When I left my office that beautiful spring day, I had no idea what was in store for me. To begin with, everything was too perfect for anything unusual to happen. It was one of those days when a man feels good, feels like speaking to his neighbor, is glad to live in a country like ours, and proud of his government. You know what I mean, one of those rare days when everything is right and nothing is wrong." (the opening lines of Where the Red Fern Grows)

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