The Right Side by Spencer Quinn. (Contemporary Novel, 2017).
A strong and hauntingly memorable novel about a driven, wounded soul who finds the one companion she can believe in (and relate too) in a previously abused dog. And oh, yes–it’s not sentimental, or anything close to it!
LeAnn Hogan went to Afghanistan whole and determined to uphold a family tradition of military service–in particular that of her troubled, late father. She came back badly wounded. One eye was gone, one side of her face disfigured; her thinking processes and memory are permanently impaired, and she’s understandably full of even worse tangled, confused and angry emotions than she left the US with. Recovering at Walter Reed Hospital, she grows close to her roommate–only to have Marci suddenly die of a random blood clot.
Without Marci, she’s convinced that nobody understands–not the psychologist assigned her case, the army intelligence officer who takes a mysterious interest in the horrific attack that left her injured and certainly not the concerned but clueless mother who never understood her. So LeAnn runs off, begins to wander the country. A number of incidents along the way tell us a lot about her stormy past, and illustrate her aimless and embittered present.
Eventually she finds herself in the small town in the Pacific northwest where Marci was from. She finds that her friend’s young daughter has gone missing and finally LeAnn finds a new (if temporary) purpose in life–locating the little girl. Along the way, she picks up a stray dog–as wounded and abused by life as she is. She tries to get rid of the animal, yet much against her will bonds with the big beast she ironically names Goody.
Together, the woman and dog stir up considerable trouble, but in the process they unravel tangled (and unsavory) family secrets and finally bring the child back to her grandmother safely. LeAnn also is compelled back briefly to Afghanistan by the Intelligence Officer. There, she helps solve the nagging question of how and why her last mission there went so brutally wrong.
Yet the truths she finds, both in Washington state and in central Asia, are unsettling and unpleasant. In the end, her internal struggles have her hitting the road again–though now she has a steadfast companion in the unquestioningly loyal Goody.
There are no easy answers for LeAnn and we know life will continue to be a frustrating struggle for her. Yet she will carry on–and now has a being to share her restless life with.
I haven’t read anything by Spencer Quinn till now. He’s the author of two bestselling series, one for adults and the other for middle school readers. It seems they all examine the bonds between people and their dogs–facing life together and solving mysteries.
This particular book isn’t exactly a mystery in the usual sense–though it has definite elements of that. It’s more a character study of a woman whose emotional and psychic wounds are even more serious than her considerable physical injuries. LeAnn needs someone who will stand by her without judging her. Goody proves to be just the sort of companion she needs–and can accept.
It all amounts to a very powerful and moving book. About an individual’s search for meaning and redemption; about loyalty; about dealing with the true and shattering cost of war; and perhaps most of all, about the healing solace offered to even the most bitter and damaged among us by a companion animal’s devotion.