Review: A Dog's Perfect Christmas
A Dog’s Perfect Christmas, a novella of sorts by A Dog’s Purpose collection best-selling creator, W Bruce Cameron does not disappoint. This narrative departs from Cameron’s usual delivery from a dog’s point of view relying instead on a delightful collection of third person points of view, including the dogs’. This equates to a novel rich with emotional connection and bristling with exuberance, warmth, humor, tenderness and abject dread, rather like a dog visiting the vet’s. The swings from fraught school yard cliques to boardroom ballsups to doggie destruction are smooth and bright leaving us fully invested with the whole the family.
Kind-hearted, Hunter Goss is a man whose offbeat bumbling nature and incurable ability to misplace essential items like his coffee cup belies his executive talents and business acumen. He works long hours, which conveniently blankets him from the chaos of home life. The need to impress his new boss marinates him in stress that is both tragically palpable and amusing as he tries to hide everything from his family.
His exotic, ex-litigator wife, Juliana is a list maker and master of the home-life vessel but she is capsizing under the continual waves of lawlessness her family heap upon her. She loves her twin three-year-old sons despite their mad half hourly sabotage attempts. She can’t help but love her recently teenaged daughter despite her savage hormone-driven outbursts and she’d even tolerate her husband’s apathetic widowed father, Sander a little better if only Hunter were around more. It’s the classic crumbling of the family fortress thanks to the pressures on the family within. She gives Hunter a subtle ultimatum and then promptly takes ill just weeks before Christmas. Hunter fears the worst for his marriage, his job and the life of the women he loves. The entire Goss family stronghold is in danger of collapse.
What sounds like a cheese platter of clichéd melodrama is anything but thanks to the ineffable narrative and character portrayal of not just the main players, but every single person who colours this story including the dreary boffins at work, Hunter’s insufferable receptionist, Kim, Ello’s crush, Sean O’Brien (also Hunter’s boss’s son) and Ruby, the adorable abandoned puppy who bounds like a bouncing jack into their lives.
Family life is messy and complex, demanding and choked with moments almost invisible to the naked and overtired eye. A Dog’s Perfect Christmas encapsulates all this with zeal and affection and incredible accuracy. Cameron nails the horror of teenage anger and angst so flawlessly I swore he had consulted with my own she-devil teen. Ello’s eighth-grade agonising exchanges with her parents and herself are hilariously en point. It’s her growing relationship with her grandpa and the situation of enforced responsibility they both find themselves in that gradually mellows the beast within and tugs at the heart strings. Add a generous dash of first-love awkward, a bevy of salacious intent (aimed at Sander) , the contemplative ruminations of Winstead the hound and the Shirley Valentine-esque laments of a thoroughbred mare hitched to a milk cart and you’ve got a novel that appeals equally in huge beautiful dollops to mid-grade teens, mums, dads, grandparents and … dog (lovers)! This is clearly an ‘everyone’ book but I especially recommend it for middle grade readers and above.
Cameron has always done ‘dog’ good. A Dog’s Perfect Christmas is ode to the ways guileless families and their ever-devoted dogs cope with every day and not so every day crises. In a story that is funny, sad, scary and joyous, the cream of feel-(real)-good floats above all else. This must become a movie one day; I need to experience it again and again …
A Dog’s Perfect Christmas
Author: W Bruce Cameron
Publisher: Pan Macmillan, $19.99
Publication Date: November 2020
For ages: 12+
Type: Middle Grade Fiction / Adult Contemporary