By Jim Kraus. Abingdon Press. $14.99.
At age 43, Mary Fassler experiences a hole in her soul that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. After losing her husband and young son in an auto accident caused by a drunk driver several years earlier, she loses her connection with God, too.
The lonely writer/editor adopts a miniature schnauzer puppy she names Rufus and quickly discovers this is not a typical dog. On one of their nightly winter walks, Rufus talks to her – yes, that’s right – and eventually confesses he talks to God, too.
“I heard . . . Rufus’s voice as clearly as I have heard anything in my life – maybe clearer than most,” says Mary. “Bewildered isn’t the right word for how I felt. Frightened isn’t the right word, either. Nonplussed, maybe.”
The 330-page novel’s pace is glacial at the outset while Mary and Rufus are bonding and Mary is beginning to break down some personal walls. But the tempo shifts into higher gear as Rufus encourages her to open up her trust and social life, something her closest friends have been advocating strongly.
“Talking to Rufus was like talking to a precocious 5-year-old,” says the Wheaton, Ill., owner. The dog never claims to be God’s spokesman, but does consider himself a dog of God like some people claim to be a child of God.
Just when it appears Mary has met the man of her dreams, all goes south quickly on a snowy winter evening. And, you guessed it, Rufus is right in the middle of the mix. Brian volunteers to take Rufus for a short neighborhood walk and on the way home, unleashes him as they approach Mary’s house. At that point a neighbor suddenly drives around the corner and desperately attempts to avoid the dog crossing the street. Instead, Rufus is hit and appears to be killed. Miraculously, he survives with only a broken leg, but a livid Mary orders the remorseful Brian to leave and the following day tells him they have no future.
Impulsively, Mary puts her house up for the sale the following day, seeking to place all memories in her rear-view mirror. Rufus, her surrogate child, has made it no secret that he longs to live at the ocean.
Eventually they settle in Atlantic Beach, quickly purchase, renovate and move into a former rental where another short-term promising relationship crumbles over the disillusioned Mary’s “feelings toward God.”
Mary finally meets her match to Rufus’s approval, a widower and his young daughter who falls in love with the quirky Rufus. In the process Mary reintroduces herself to God, eventually even apologizing for her disdain and distrust.
At that point, Rufus, her conduit with God, does something totally unexpected as he sees a marked change in his owner’s attitude and outlook. And, of course, her personal life takes a much-needed upbeat swing in the final pages, too.
Inspirational and nourishing, the author’s deft handling of this emotional bumpy ride is ambitious and complex, yet packed with life’s lessons in a delicious delivery.