Despite the ever-present oppression of the Jim Crow South around him, Tobit Messager had become a prosperous and well-respected man. Then one day forces beyond his control start a cascade of misfortune that leaves him blind and nearly destitute. It is then that an affable travelling musician, who calls himself Ace Redbone, shows up on his doorstep claiming to be a distant relative.
In an effort to alleviate his family's dire situation, Tobit allows his son, Tobias, to accompany Ace Redbone on a quest to collect a long overdue debt. Together, Ace, Tobias, and a most peculiar dog named Okra set off on a journey that will lead to unexpected consequences. Currents of grace begin rippling through not only Tobit's family but his entire community as hidden crimes are revealed and justice, which had almost been despaired of, is served.This retelling of the biblical story of Tobit, set in North Carolina during the Depression, brings to life in surprising ways the beloved Old Testament characters, including the important but often overlooked family dog.
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Michael Nicholas Richard was born in Saco, Maine. He has lived most of his life near New Bern, North Carolina. His short stories have been published in small press, magazine, and paperback markets. He lives with his wife of 35 years and their two dogs.
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Book Review: Tobit's Dog by Michael Nicholas Richard Although I am familiar with writers such as Flannery O'Connor, whose work is infused with and informed by her Catholicism, but is not overtly Catholic, I was only moderately aware of a growing genre of writing for Catholic audiences by Catholic writers that is more overtly Catholic. So, it has been an extremely happy opportunity to read and review Tobit's Dog by Michael Nicholas Richard for Ignatius Press. Tobit's Dog parallels the biblical Book of Tobit, a book commonly excluded from non-Catholic Bibles as non-canonical. The Book of Tobit offers a parallel story of Sarah, a young woman whose fiancés each mysteriously die, labeling her a cursed woman, and Tobit's son Tobiah, who is sent to collect a debt owed to his father. Catholics consider the Book of Tobit a precursor to the wisdom books, and support for the Church's teachings of the purity of marriage and the intercession of angels (809). Set in the Jim-Crow south, Tobit's Dog chronicles the Messager family's experiences through the patriarch Tobit and his sole son Tobias as they attempt to seek justice for a brutally murdered boy from their community. Okra, Tobit's rescued dog companion, accompanies both men as they do their parts in pursuing justice for Jamie. Police corruption, domestic violence, homophobia, and racism provide the backdrop, which allows faith, hope, and love to ultimately transcend and lead to a modicum of justice for Jamie, but also for Tobias, Tobit, the deputy sheriff Del, and the mechanic Crafty. Things I Loved: 1. Layering the ugliness in with the beauty of this world: As Catholics, we know that the things of our earthly world are not ultimately worthwhile. We know that our earthly world is neither fair, nor kind. We know that justice often is skewed during our lifetimes. However, we also know that our God has given us beautiful, awe-inspiring moments in our lives. We know that the beautiful things are ways we can see God's presence, and we also know that the ugliness is evidence of man's sinfulness, our choices to turn our back on Him. There are so many beautiful moments in this story and they are juxtaposed against a story of brutal degradation, and, like our real lives, these beautiful moments are invitations to see God's work in our lives not as a puppet-master, but as our loving Father providing us a shoulder to lean on in the hard times. Although we work hard to make our world better, we also must acknowledge that our world will never be perfect, and Richard's novel gets at the heart of this paradox. 2. Unapologetically Catholic moments: Mentions and discussions of the outward signs of our faith abound in this novel. Holy water, incense, mass, Eucharist, burial of the dead, and angels are all integral components of the story. Emphasizing these outward signs is the understanding we Catholics have that we are imperfect in everything we do, but we persevere in our love for our God and, through Him, our love for our fellow man. What I think is wonderful about this element is that these concepts are not fully explained in this text; it is not a teaching text after all but a novel. However, if a non-Catholic reads this novel, he or she will become intrigued by the mention of these things, hopefully interested enough to ask questions and not rest in uninformed presumptions, to investigate further the beauty of our Catholic faith. 3. Tobit's willingness to do the right thing: From the beginning, when Tobit rescues Okra and his siblings from drowning, Tobit's character exhibits strength of character that is inspiring. Tobit faces significant challenges--a crooked sheriff, blindness, incarceration--and never opts for the easy way out. Tobit's prayers remind us that God is not a wish granter, but we can rely on God to walk with us in our trials. This reminds me what I have always told my children: the right thing to do is often the most difficult thing to do, and that is how you know it is the right thing to do. But, Tobit's humanity shows through, too. He is a man of faith, but he is also a man. He wishes his blindness would go away; he wishes his son did not have to leave him; he wishes the white deputy sheriff had more backbone. Tobit's actions throughout the story are a constant reminder that "Thy will be done" even though he never once iterates that phrase. 4. Infusing of biblical narrative into contemporary fiction: One of my favorite subgenres is novels that take on the stories of Biblical characters, especially lesser-known characters, and fill in their backstories or provide new perspectives on the events in their story. Tobit's Dog reminds me of a class I took at CSUSM by Dr. Madeline Marshall (The Bible as Literature) for which I wrote a paper about the women "missing" in the narratives of the Bible. They are mentioned, but we never hear directly from most of them and I want to know more about them. Although Tobit's Dog does not attempt to tell the Biblical story of Tobit, Tobias, and Sarah, it does use those characters and elements of the Biblical story to create a new narrative infused with the model of the Book of Tobit. Additionally, the nominal focus on Tobit’s dog (Okra) provides something for dog-loving America to connect with One Thing I Liked Less: Not enough of the title character: Okra is a wonderful character, but there is simply not enough of him in the story. Perhaps it is my recent reading of The Art of Racing in the Rain and my familiarity with Marley and Me that have led me to expect more from a dog in a story. However, Okra is a great character, but his role is significantly limited. I would have loved to see more of Okra as an agent of action, especially given that he is the title character, but perhaps that would be imposing an element of “untruth” that Richards did not want to play with. True, there is an element of realism in Okra as he is, and there is a beautiful homage to Okra at the end when Tobias reminisces that Okra's eyes were always a reminder of his father's (Tobit's, but also God the heavenly father) presence. I can’t help but feel that developing that idea more throughout the text would have reinforced a beautiful message. Tobit’s Dog is a moving look at how a man’s faith sustains him. Tobit’s Dog reminds us that in an era of blatant racism, there are those who ignore the social customs and pursue decency in spite of the repercussions. Tobit’s Dog also shows that a just man’s involvement is justified in helping to see that a young boy’s cruelly motivated murder. Despite the sadness surrounding the story, there is an incredible light that emanates from the story, and this truly does imitate many of our own personal stories, making this novel a very good read. Sources: Tobit. New American Bible. Revised Version. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ed. Harper Collins Publishers, 2012. eBook.
Tobit Messager is a black man living in the U.S. south during the Great Depression. As if being poor and struggling to care for his family were not enough, he had to face the many horrors of persecution so common during that dark time in our history. Due to nothing other than the color of his skin, Tobit was treated like a pariah.As a Catholic, he was unable to attend Mass because of the great distance between churches in an area where Protestantism was commonplace. Though unable to be part of the larger Catholic community, Tobit kept the faith alive and never gave into despair. In the novel, he faces unbelievable hardships, yet he never succumbs. Always doing the right thing, even when doing wrong would be easier and less painful to him and his family, Tobit chooses a path of charity and honor. The dog? Okra is a mutt who was discarded along with his littermates. Like Tobit, he is always faithful and can be relied upon in the most dire of circumstances. The rest of the characters in the book are well fleshed-out. Some characters you fall in love with; others you can't help hoping that God will mete out His punishment - now. This novel is a message of charity in the face of hatred; trusting in God's will despite being thrust into the the worst situations imaginable. This is not a light-hearted read, so if you are looking for a fluffy inspirational story, this book is not it. The horrors that people like Tobit faced are on full display in all of their ugliness. Violence within the storyline plays a vital role, and it is within those gut-wrenching moments that I found tears streaming down my cheeks. I was touched to the core by the strength and honor of the main characters in the book. Tobit never considers himself a victim, a trait that often appears to be non-existent today. Delightfully written, Tobit's Dog is the rare book that left an indelible stamp on my heart. The descriptions of people, settings, and situations paint just enough in your mind. I felt like I was right there with the Messagers as they faced life, though the book is never heavily weighed down with unnecessary words. There are clear Catholic undertones throughout the book, yet never preachy, and is equally approachable for people of any background. My only suggestion (after you get your hands on this book!) is that if you don't remember much about the book of Tobit in Sacred Scripture, read it AFTER you read Tobit's Dog.