Book review: ‘Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People’

Cover of the book ‘Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People’
A writer from the Deep South and a stray dog find each other when they both need help and hope.
By Sally Rosenthal

The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People by Rick Bragg. Knopf, 2021. Hardcover, 256 pages, $28.   

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Let’s just say that my brother and I are convinced that one of us must have been switched at birth. “Polar opposites” is the best way to describe us. For decades, we have canceled each other’s vote. I have been a vegetarian for 35 years, and he says that he would rather eat dog food than tofu.

You get the picture. Other than blood, however, there is one thing that unites us: our absolute love of dogs. That is why, halfway through The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People, I took a break to order a copy for him.

In this literary love song to quite possibly the worst-behaved, most defiant and least likely to win a canine congeniality contest dog, Pulitzer Prize winner and memoirist Rick Bragg has written a book that will resonate with all dog lovers, no matter their political views or food choices.

The other side of 60 and worn down by cancer treatment, Bragg considered adopting a dog ― one who, if not perfect, was at least not prone to rolling in donkey dung and chasing delivery trucks as if it was a canine Olympic event. He envisioned long walks around his rural Alabama home and quiet nights with a contented dog by his side.

Then Speck appeared on a ridge above his farm, and all thoughts of dog perfection vanished within seconds. Describing the dog as “76 pounds of wet hair and bad decisions,” Bragg admits that it wasn’t love at first sight for either of them.

Injured, filthy and distrustful, the dog, nevertheless, tugged at the author’s heartstrings. Eventually, these two souls in need of a friend came to trust each other, forming an alliance that grew into what passed for love more than midway through hardscrabble lives.

Be warned: Readers will need a few tissues on hand for the tears that inevitably accompany most memoirs about much-loved dogs. However, I guarantee that tears of mirth will also fall, since Bragg is that type of gifted writer who can make readers laugh and cry within the same paragraph. The Speckled Beauty is dog writing at its best. And, oh yes. My brother enjoyed it, too.

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