In this awkward but diverting tale, Brewer (The Poet of Tolstoy Park) recounts the story of the search for his beloved golden retriever, Cormac, who goes missing while Brewer is on a book tour. Brewer begins his "mostly true" Marley cash-in by introducing readers to Fairhope, Ala., where life is genial and, perhaps surprisingly to outsiders, quite sophisticated. Brewer also introduces us to Cormac, who is lovely but not unique in the dog kingdom. (His distinguishing features are loyalty, fear of thunder and an ability to "speak" in throaty moans.) Unfortunately, much of the narrative is filled with mundane details (the type of coffee Brewer buys for his bookshop), unpiquant filler (a none-too-funny chapter on rousting a squirrel from the garage with Cormac) and banal descriptions of plot points, such as Brewer's purchasing of the underground electric fence that keeps Cormac in the yard. But in the latter third of the book, which covers Brewer's weeks-long search for Cormac, the amiable, talky style gains a welcome clarity and momentum, leading to a satisfying denouement, for dog lovers in particular. (Sept.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Cormac: The Tale of a Dog Gone Missingby Sonny Brewer
Cormac — a dark-red Golden Retriever who has always been afraid of thunderstorms and lightning flashes — runs away one stormy night while his master is away. So begins a strange adventure that lands Cormac in the back of a red pickup truck driven by a mysterious woman, takes him to a series of dog pounds and rescue shelters, and ultimately brings him to the suburbs of Connecticut. Meanwhile, his owner, devastated and trying to juggle his family and his new novel, becomes determined to solve the 'dog-napping' case, watching his small-town community come together in search of his lost companion. Inspired by real events, Brewer has, as he says, “mainly told the truth in this story of losing my good dog Cormac.”
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Read an Excerpt
IT ALL BEGAN with a silver and black-saddled German Shepherd. He was my first dog.
I remember it this way:
The big dog leaned all its weight against my leg. I answered by reaching out my hand to stroke the thick fur between his ears, looking into his deep mahogany eyes. He knew something was wrong, but I had no confidence to share. I turned up my face and searched my mother’s eyes hoping to find some reassurance.
She repeated her instructions, telling me to take a different school bus, telling me not to come home this afternoon on bus 50, to instead find bus 64 and show the driver the note she had just tucked into my shirt pocket. I placed my hand over the pocket, as if to press the note into the skin of my chest so I would not lose it somewhere around school or on the playground.
The only time I had ever been to Big Mama’s creepy house was when my father had taken me there, and never had I spent the night there. It had a woodshake roof going mossy green and gray walls with no paint. Almost all of my relatives and friends now had a television. She did not even have a radio. Plus, she smelled like the snuff she dipped, or she smelled like wood smoke from the black iron stove in her kitchen. She was also huge, her bosom like a fat pillow, and it seemed to me that I should not call her big to her face. My father had hit me across the face for calling Waymon Culpepper by his first name. And this seemed to me a worse thing to say, that my grandmother was big.
And, she was not my mama.
“Who’s going to feed Rex, Mother?” I looked at my dog and his eyes brightened and his tail wagged, but tentatively.
“I will feed your dog, Sonny. Or your daddy will.”
“No. You have to feed Rex,” I demanded. “You feed him, or I’m not going on the other bus.”
“Young man! You will not speak to me like that,” she said, making fists and propping them on her hips. Then her face went soft and she pushed her fingers through her hair. “Sonny, sweetie, don’t worry about Rex. I will feed him.”
“But why do I have to go to her house?”
“It is not her house. She’s your grandmother,” mother said.My father required me to address her as Big Mama. I think that’s because she used to be married to my Pop Brewer, and “Grammy” was used by Pop Brewer’s new wife. “Look, Sonny, Big Mama’s excited to have you come for the weekend. Why you’re going is so your father and I can–well, take a break from things.Maybe drive to the lake. Just talk.”
“You mean argue?”
“No, Sonny. And I don’t like you saying that. This is a good idea, good for all of us. You stay tonight and tomorrow night at Big Mama’s house. Your daddy and I will come and get you on Sunday morning.We’ll all stay for lunch, and we’ll come home. It’s not like you’re being sent to a work camp, for goodness sake.”
“Rex will be fine. You just be sure to get on the right bus. Mr. Owens drives bus 64.He told me himself that he will watch after you on his bus.”
“I’m eleven years old. I don’t need anybody to watch me.”
“Of course, you don’t, Sonny. It’s just that one of those Rayford boys picked a fight on that bus last week.”
“I’m not afraid of Doug Rayford,” I snapped.
“No, I don’t expect you are.” She tousled my hair and told me to go and meet my bus. “I hear it coming down the road. Better hurry.”
I stopped on the top step of the porch, the morning sun warming my face in the frosty air. I squatted and put down my books and Rex nuzzled my chest. I still could not believe, after almost six months, that he was my very own dog.He wagged his tail and licked my face. I laughed and turned my face to avoid his wet tongue. I heard the bus’s brakes screech at the Dawkins’ house just around the bend. I hugged Rex, grabbed my books, and jumped up. I told Rex to stay, and ran down the hill to meet the yellow bus.
My grandmother did not have a phone. And so I did not learn until Sunday morning that Rex had not eaten since I left.
“If there was any doubt that Rex is your dog, and your dog alone, it’s all gone now,”my mother told me.
My father had not come with her to Big Mama’s.
“That dog sat watching for the school bus the way he always does, and when it went right on past he made like he was going to chase it down. He lay in the yard until dark, watching the highway.”My mother said Rex refused the bowl of food she took out to him, that he walked away from her standing there and went underneath the house.
“Three times yesterday I looked under the house, and there he lay,” my mother told me. “I’d call him, and he’d raise his head to look at me, but he wouldn’t budge.” I sat with the two women, listening to Mama, looking at her as though she told of a hole that opened up in the ground.
“Well, I’ll declare. I reckon I’d forget my head if it wasn’t attached,” Big Mama said, pushing her chair back from the table. She got up and took a dish towel from a wooden peg beneath the windowsill. She folded the threadbare cloth into a kind of potholder and, letting down the oven door, wrapped it around the handle of a heavy iron skillet. She took out the pan of cornbread and set it onto the table atop a jar lid that served as a trivet. She left the towel wrapped around the skillet handle and eased down into her chair with a hmmph and a smile.
“Now,” said Big Mama, “let’s say the blessing.” And we bowed our heads and she addressed God in a clear voice, thanking him, and asking him, “…to keep things about the way they are, if you please.” I did not close my eyes, and my eyebrows were locked together in a frown.
As soon as amen was spoken I entreated my mother to tell me more about Rex.
“Nothing more to tell, really, Sonny. He’s upset, I guess, that you aren’t there. And I reckon he’ll be fine as soon as you are.”
“But Rex didn’t eat since Friday. He’s not fine. Can we just go home?”
“Sonny, let me say something,” Big Mama said, spreading butter on a slice of cornbread. She put down the knife and the triangle of hot cornbread. She folded her hands in her lap and drew me into the warmth of her gaze. She spoke my name again. I think my troubled face might’ve softened some, but my eyes were still full.
Big Mama had walked and talked all day yesterday, asking me a thousand questions that I answered, and she had told me a thousand things about the homeplace, as she called her house and land. She had pointed out trees my father had claimed and climbed. She told me of the bull that chased her from the feeding pen just last Christmas, and that she bonged the beast on the head with her bucket.
She told how much she missed Mister Frank, as she called her husband who was like my grandfather only not really kin to me. “I can nearly about feel Mister Frank on these cool autumn evenings, ’specially at twilight when whippoorwills venture to call out from the darkening woods yonder across them hills and hollows,” Big Mama had said, pointing a crooked finger south toward the treeline a mile distant. She asked me, did Daddy still make those long hauls to the West Coast? I told her yes. It did not register with me then that we had not visited her since the middle of summer.
“That’s where Daddy found my dog. Out in California,” I said. “Where Hollywood is. That’s how he came up with a famous dog like Rex.” I told my grandmother that my father had brought me the dog last summer. “Daddy told me Rex is the grandson of Rex the Wonder Dog. From the movies, you know,” I said, my eyebrows high. I told her I only knew about Rex the Wonder Dog in the comic books, but Daddy had told me this was the movie dog’s grandson.
“Did you see Rex the Wonder Dog in the movies, Big Mama?”
She had only laughed and said,“Lord, no, son. Mister Frank and I were too busy running this farm to get to a picture show.” She had stopped walking abruptly then, looking across the pasture toward where Mud Creek cut through a stand of willows. “We did go off to town one Saturday night–you must’ve been a baby then–and saw a silly picture about a talking mule. Francis, the thing was called. I never saw Mister Frank laugh so, but then he reckoned money was too hard to get to spend it on such a trifle. And we never went back.” She dusted her hands on her dress, turned back toward the house. “We might ought to have gone to another picture show, it seems,” she said, and had picked up her pace, walking ahead of me.
Now she got up and went to the counter and got the apples she’d peeled earlier. She stopped and looked out the window, but I didn’t think she saw a thing. Some of the same sadness I’d seen yesterday flickered in Big Mama’s eyes as she leaned close to the table, setting down the dish of apple slices. “We had a big mutt here on the farm, part shepherd and part bloodhound of all things. Ugliest dog I ever saw. But he was Mister Frank’s favorite. Called him Grizzle.” She sat down and looked at me, not blinking, completely ignoring my mother at the table. She put her hands on either side of her plate. “Lord, son, I hope I’m wrong, but I’m of a mind your dog is an old-timer and he has gone down in his back.”
“Big Mama!” Mother scolded. “Why in the world would you tell this child such a thing?”
“Because his sorry daddy won’t, that’s why. I’m just saying that Grizzle…”
“What? Big Mama, what?” I began to cry and shook my head. “I told you, Mother, I shouldn’t go away from my dog!”
“For heaven’s sake. Both of you, please…”
“You have to know, Sonny, if Rex is down it is nothing you did. You hear me, son? Coming to see your granny wasn’t part of this. When Grizzle got down, Mister Frank told me it was a fault of the Shepherd in him. Their long backs don’t bear up well as they get older.”
“Rex is not older,” I shouted, and leaped from the table, tipping over my chair. I ran from the room as Mother said, “Good Lord, Big Mama! This just beats all! I’ll just have to get him home now if he doesn’t run off through the woods on foot.Why would you do this,Marjene? Is this how you pay back a boy’s affection?”
As I think back, I know now that the old woman did not get up to follow her daughter-in-law out of the kitchen, where the beans and corn and squash still sat steaming in their bowls. She would have waited until she heard the automobile’s tires leave the gravel of her drive to meet the quiet pavement before she would have put her napkin over the uneaten potatoes on her plate and pushed back her glass of sweet tea, its few ice cubes near melted. I’m glad Big Mama did not have a telephone to get the news that Rex had to be put down. It would be a long time before another visit, and the story would have acquired some measure of peace before it was told to her that Daddy had held out the gun to me, offering me the shot that would take my paralyzed dog out of his misery.
Daddy’s face had been a mess of anger, blurred in my vision that focused on the fat blue pistol in his hand, its wood handle extended toward me. He had not stopped scowling since I crawled out from beneath the house, dirty and huffing from dragging Rex on a bed sheet into the sunlight that made him close his eyes.
“He’s your’n, boy,” Daddy had said, still holding the butt of the gun toward me, and I’d looked straight at him like he was a copperhead in a coil, that if I broke the stare I’d be struck. Big Mama would learn that when he asked me flat out, “You want to shoot him?” that I’d said no and squeezed hard as I could to keep from crying. “Then move. Get over here back of me.”
And when I stepped to the side, Rex blinked his eyes open and locked on mine, looking for reassurance. Somebody might tell Big Mama how I gave in and cried then, but they wouldn’t know to tell her how that river of bewilderment and anger flowed right from me into the silent, waiting eyes of Rex the Wonder Dog, when what he needed was confidence. But I had none to share.
Meet the Author
About the Author: Sonny Brewer is the author of the novels 'The Poet of Tolstoy Park' and 'A Sound Like Thunder' and the editor of the 'Blue Moon Café' Southern fiction series. He founded 'Over the Transom Bookstore' in Fairhope, Alabama, where he lives with his family.
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The story of Cormac: The Tale of a Dog Gone Missing follows the life of a beautiful Golden Retriever and the man who loves him. It is based on a true story although the author admits that 'there are stretches in here, and a little exaggeration now and again.' Sonny Brewer is a bookstore owner, in a small town in Alabama where few people live and fewer still wander into his store. He loves books and dogs but has had little luck with the later. His first dog, a German Shepherd that he owned as a child, became paralyzed later in life and Sonny was forced to watch as his father shot the dog. Undoubtedly traumatized, he still wanted another dog. The next four-legged friend didn't arrive until Sonny was an adult. This dog was a hyper-active Jack Russell named Zebbie. The dog was too destructive around the store and had the bad habit of jumping out of moving vehicles. Realizing that the energetic dog was too much, Sonny found Zebbie a more suitable home. Finally, Sonny finds the perfect dog when he and his family go to a Golden Retriever breeder and one special puppy seeks him out. The two soon become inseparable. The early part of Cormac follows the every day antics of this lovable dog and his adoring owner. It is light and fun reading. About mid-way through the book, Sonny, an author, leaves for a book tour, giving careful instructions to his friend who will be watching Cormac. A few days later, the dog, who is terrified of thunder, runs through his electric dog fence during a storm and disappears. Thus begins a long, painful search by Sonny Brewer as he searches for his best friend. As a dog lover, I found this well-written book touching. It was nice to see a grown man admit how much his dog meant to him, and to see what lengths he would go to bring that dog home. I have read other reviews of this book where dog advocates have come down harshly on the author for a) not neutering his dog b) leaving a dog he knows is afraid of thunder with a friend when the dog fencing was not working correctly and c) coming down so hard on shelters that transported the dog out of state. I agree that the dog should have been neutered, but beyond that, I believe the author acted as any bereaved pet owner would. Never having used an electric dog fence, I didn't know how temperamental they could be and that they might need periodic adjusting to work properly. I also suspect that had one of my dogs gone missing and then had shelter workers hidden the facts of his transportation from me, I too would have reacted poorly. Brewer admits to his frustrations time and again. I feel he should be praised for admitting his mistakes and for educating readers to what can happen to a runaway dog. Quill says: A good book about a 'Dog Gone Missing.'
As a life long dog lover and volunteer involved in golden retriever rescue, I was very disappointed in this book. I am mostly concerned about the message that Sonny Brewer sends his readers about shelters and rescue groups. His book implies that those involved in rescue work are over zealous thieves of dogs. In reality, rescue groups are a tireless group of people who give hope to dogs of irresponsible and sometimes cruel owners. My rescue group saves around 200 dogs a year. These dogs come to us through owner relinquishments, shelters, and as strays. The atrocities that we see with these dogs does make us somewhat zealous, but all in the best interests of the dogs. Had Mr. Brewer installed an appropriate fence (electronic fences are unreliable and unfair means of containment), neutered his beloved dog, and spent time with him, rather than just turn him out to his own devices, he would not have lost his dog (not once, but multiple times). But alas, that would not have allowed him to write a book with a golden retriever on the cover so that he could cash in on his irresponsibility as a dog owner. Mr. Brewer professes his love for his dog and I do not doubt that he does love his dog, but his irresponsibility with his dog and with the telling of this story leave a bad taste in my mouth. Its about time someone wrote a good book about the work of rescue organizations. The money made would be well spent in the continued rescue of needy dogs. Perhaps Mr. Brewer will see fit to send some of the proceeds of this book to the Connecticut rescue that took such wonderful care of his dog.