Book Reviews: The Dog Who Danced; The Man Who Quit Money
Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez
3/10/2012

The Dog Who Danced by Susan Wilson
c.2012, St. Martin’s Griffin, $24.99, 320 pages

Who could resist that little urchin face? The dog staring at you from your computer screen sure was a cutie. He was a stray, found wandering nearby and nobody came to claim him. Tempting. But wasn’t someone missing that sweet boy? How could anybody refuse those please-love-me eyes?

Alice and Ed Parmalee couldn’t, that’s for sure. It was easy to fall in love with the sheltie dog and he was obviously abandoned, but in the new novel The Dog Who Danced by Susan Wilson, keeping him might be a delicate ballet.

Justine Meade was certain that the phone call had been just another obligation. Her stepmother Adele must have gritted her teeth when she dialed the number. For nearly 40 years, she’d made it crystal-clear that she didn’t want a stepdaughter—but there she was on the phone, summoning Justine, telling her that her father was dying.

Justine didn’t want to go. She’d barely spoken to her father in years because there was nothing to say. Still, there she was, riding shotgun with a bad-tempered trucker, heading for what was once home. At least she had Mack with her.

Justine hadn’t wanted to go to the East Coast, in part because she didn’t want to leave her dog. Mack was everything to her: protector, best friend and dancing partner. She and Mack loved performing, they loved being together, and Justine knew he would be the perfect buffer between her and the family she barely knew.

But then the unthinkable happened. The trucker, who’d complained about Justine’s presence, who said she was the reason he was running late, got fed up. He left her behind in a truck stop. He left… with Mack still in the cab.

Ed Parmalee saw the dog as he drove past the cemetery, but he didn’t stop. The graveyard held bad memories and the body of Ed’s daughter, neither of which Ed wanted to visit any time soon. That must’ve been the dog Alice mentioned, the one she figured was lost. The one she was going to “rescue.” They should try to find the sheltie’s owner. They didn’t need a dog. Ed hadn’t seen that hopeful look on Alice’s face in a long time.

I did a little dance myself when I got this book. Author Susan Wilson’s last novel is one of my favorites, and I was eager to see if The Dog Who Danced could top it.

The answer is: not quite. But close. There’s no doubt that The Dog Who Danced will do a little two-step on your heart. Wilson is, paws-down, a master at character development and it’s uncanny how she gets inside the furry heads of her smallest characters. This book is all about the biggest fear of every dog lover, and Wilson plays it well.

Yes, it’s a little predictable. Yes, it’s a little mushy. And yes, you’ll love it anyhow, and if you share your life with a dog, this is a book you want. For you, The Dog Who Danced simply can’t be missed.

The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen
c.2012, Riverhead Books, $15, 272 pages

Just about fifteen cents. That’s all you ever find between the sofa cushions. It’s never a huge amount of money, but for some silly reason, it makes you inordinately happy.

Same thing when you find a fiver stashed in last winter’s jacket, or a couple Washingtons in an old forgotten purse or wallet. It’s as if you just won the micro-lottery. You feel strangely rich.

Now imagine never finding money. Imagine never wanting it at all. In the new book The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen, you’ll read about the author’s friend, who’s penniless on purpose. Back in the days before Mark Sundeen had a mortgage and a successful writing career, back when most of his possessions fit in the bed of a pickup, Sundeen lived a carefree life as an itinerant river guide, sleeping in his truck and eking out a living in Moab, Utah.

He wasn’t alone in that unbothered existence. Many people, discouraged by government actions or corporate greed, left the grid to live in Moab. One of them was Sundeen’s friend, Daniel Suelo.

Born into an ultra-conservative fundamentalist family, Daniel Suelo was a sensitive child who took his faith extremely seriously. Still, during college, he re-examined his beliefs and began to hypothesize about certain aspects of God. After a stint with the Peace Corps, he started questioning the validity of organized religion. He’d noticed the wide chasm between The Haves and The Have-Nots and how money seemed to change everything, which seemed unchristian-like and wrong. Further muddling his deeply introspective thoughts on religion, Suelo realized he was gay.

Finding a community where eccentricity was barely noticed and tolerance is expected was, therefore, a godsend for Suelo. In 2000, after a stay in the Canada wilderness, he left his last $30 in a phone booth and moved to Moab. There, Sundeen says, Suelo lives with few possessions in whatever shelter he can find. He dines from a Dumpster, volunteers and enjoys an active social life. There, he lives “abundantly” with zero money.

Could I do it?

That’s the question you’ll ask yourself over and over as you’re reading The Man Who Quit Money. It’s a tantalizing thought, this chuck-it-all life, and author Mark Sundeen lets his readers ponder it as he tells the life story of his friend, Daniel Suelo.

But this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill biography. Sundeen lends his readers a good sense of who Suelo really is, while still preserving the enigmatic aspects. He lets us scoff a little, then he pulls us back into wholeheartedly agreeing with Suelo, almost to the point of wanting to live in a cave, too. Notice I said “almost.” Sundeen is stingy with romanticism and freely relates hardships while he also examines the morals behind money and why most of us chase it.

I think that if you’ve ever seriously considered your cash and wondered if you could really live without it, here’s your chance to reflect. For you, The Man Who Quit Money is a book to take to the sofa.


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