By Mary Ann DeSantis | Photography courtesy of the Sartoris Literary Group
This book of short stories about dogs will put a smile on the faces of canine owners and some confirmed cat lovers. Be forewarned, though, you might also shed a tear while reading.
Any anthology that includes tales by John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and Mississippian Willie Morris is already special, but add in stories by modern-day writers like Jackson editorial cartoonist Marshall Ramsey and Memphis bookstore owner Corey Mesler, and it’s even harder to put the book down.
“Dog Stories for the Soul,” published by the Jackson-based Sartoris Literary Group, contains 19 short stories about man’s – and, in many of the entries, woman’s — best friend. Some are true, while others are fiction. Some are funny, while others are tear-jerkers, but they all illustrate how the bonds between humans and their dogs last a lifetime. Many of the writers reminisce about dogs from their childhood with memories so vivid that readers can envision their own pets in similar situations.
Edited by Mardi Allen, a nationally known psychologist and the acquiring editor for Sartoris, the book captures the special relationships that people develop with their pets. Allen skillfully selected stories that are perfect examples of the mutual love and devotion between owners and their dogs… and in a couple of instances, cats. Just as no two dogs are alike, neither are these stories but the book flows seamlessly from one exceptional story into the next.
After having several conversations about anthologies with the Sartoris publisher, Allen knew a collection of dog stories would be at the top of her list. After all, she was a dog lover herself and had two cocker spaniels.
“This project allowed me to share some of my favorite older stories integrated with more recent dog stories,” she said.
One of those favorite older stories is “Charley and Me,” excerpted from the classic John Steinbeck book, “Travels with Charley.” Allen’s book opens with this story, which shows just how far an owner will go to help his beloved pet when it gets sick.
Some of the stories are written from the animal’s perspective, including Allen’s own contribution to the anthology.
“I was privileged to be the guardian of two precious cocker spaniels, Mattie and Allie, for many years. I’ve always known I wanted to share some of our many adventures in a book,” says Allen. “After Mattie passed away in early 2016 at age 14, I began imagining what Allie may be feeling without Mattie. I enjoyed helping Allie write her story in first person.”
The story, “My Life as I See It,” is even more poignant now because sweet Allie passed away last April at age 16.
Another dog’s point-of-view story comes from Mark Twain’s classic, “A Dog’s Tale,” a short story that first appeared in 1903 in Harper’s magazine. The first sentence, “My father was a St. Bernard, my mother was a collie, but I am a Presbyterian,” grabs readers from the start and proves Twain’s talents as one of America’s best writers and humorists.
Cat lovers will be touched by the stories that show how strong the bonds between felines and canines can become. In “Brothers from Different Mothers,” Annie Oeth shares a humorous tale about her Jack Russell terrier, Max, and her cat, Ted Nugent. Yes, the cat was named Ted when she told her son she was worried about getting cat scratch fever. The story, however, has a happy ending despite Ted needing some Xanax when he was separated from his best friend, the canine Max.
Some stories are darker, like “She Loved That Dog,” by Corey Mesler, who owns the 143-year-old Burke’s Book Store in Memphis. Mesler’s masterful fiction portrays a little girl’s love for her dog and how it lasts for eternity.
The last story comes from one of Willie Morris’ most beloved books, “My Dog Skip,” which was a major motion picture in 2000. “Chinaberry Fights, A Girl, and a Little Kitten” will inspire readers to find copies of this classic book and renew their love for Morris’ humor, poignancy, and gentle wisdom about life – especially about life with a dog.
“As a vet who has a dog in my family, this book stirred every emotion in me,” David May, DVM, at Animal Medical Hospital in Brandon wrote for the cover. “Dogs can bring us so much joy and this book captures the special relationship we have with them.”
“Dog Stories for the Soul” is available at most bookstores and retails for $19.95 (paperback) and $9.95 for various eBook editions.