Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Rick Bragg has written on a vast number of topics both as a an author and a journalist, and in his most recent work, The Speckled Beauty, he branches out further once again. In this autobiographical book, the author explores the many ways in which his life was transformed when a half-blind, misbehaved stray dog unexpectedly walked into his life.
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Rick Bragg Presents the Dog who Changed Him
The bond between man and animal is one which, so far, has proven quite difficult to define, at least in scientific terms. While some do still believe animals only love those who feed and shelter them, those of us who have owned animals and spent years (if not decades) with them know there is a lot more to the equation. They become members of the family and love us just as much, if not more than humans can. They change our lives for the better, a tale Rick Bragg recounts in his autobiographical book, The Speckled Beauty.
There are no elements of fiction in this book, and it begins by showing us a fairly depressing reality, one many people have to deal with regardless of who they are or where they’re from. We meet Rick Bragg in a rather uncertain period in his life, one which seems to suggest he might be ending for a premature finale.
With a cancer diagnosis, kidney failure, chemotherapy and recurring bouts of pneumonia to contend with, Rick was, without sugarcoating it, becoming lethargic, melancholic, and understandably depressed with the situation at hand. This is where fate threw him a curve-ball, manifesting itself as Speck, the stray dog.
One day, the half-blind, malnourished stray dog appeared on the ridge behind Bragg‘s house, and he has been anything but a good boy since his arrival. Barking at the moon, rolling in manure, malodorous, destructive, defiant, and constantly harassing livestock dozens of times bigger than himself, Speck entered the author’s life without really asking for any consent.
Though he is the type of dog many owners would find difficult to accept, Rick instantly developed a kinship with the damaged soul who appeared to him in a moment of great need, as it turned out, for both of them. Tracing the course of his own life since Speck‘s arrival, he explores the many surprising, heartwarming and often comical ways in which it ended up changing for the better. As a side note, as of the book’s publication on September 21st, 2021, Speck is still alive and well.
The Healing Bond in The Speckled Beauty
For anyone who hasn’t owned and lived with a pet for an extensive amount of time, it is difficult to explain with exactitude the emotions they elicit from us. The best way I could explain it is by saying they actually become members of the family, and we begin to see them as our siblings or children, rather than simply animals.
The link between the mind and the body is one which I believe doesn’t require further proof of existence at this point, and the way in which our animals make us feel can have a rather direct impact on our health. As a grounded example, a dog who constantly showers their owner with love will make them feel happier, therefore helping them relax and relieve any nervous tension.
However, the healing bond shared by Man and dog can go a whole lot deeper than that, and a good deal of The Speckled Beauty demonstrates this concept. Before going further, I would just like to commend Rick Bragg on the courage it took to write some parts of this book where he exposes his complicated inner world when it was at one of its most vulnerable states.
He takes the time to discuss the effects of all the difficulties he was going through at the time of writing (and in some cases, still is), and while there is certainly a lot of hefty content, it’s extremely relevant to all human beings and very much worth absorbing, at least in my opinion. His perspective on his own fate is often insightful and I think we stand to learn a lot from his approach to it, as well as his considerable experience in the matter.
Most of our time, however, is spent learning about how Speck‘s introduction helped shift Rick‘s priorities and made his outlook a more positive one. He elaborates quite deeply on the exact feelings Speck elicited from him, the thoughts he made him contend with, and the personal conclusions he pushed him to realize. More than just a presence in his life, Speck also became, in a sense, a teacher for Rick Bragg, one who showed him (and is still showing him) how to deal with life’s greatest adversities.
The Humour of Disappointment
This book does have plenty of serious content, this much is true, but on the whole I would say the full weight of it rarely felt due to a couple of factors, the first one being the author’s writing style. His prose feels very light and open, almost as if he was trying to have a good conversation with the reader to tell them all he has learned in recent years; it all feels very informal, rather than official.
The other element making The Speckled Beauty a little lighter is the good-natured humour the author managed to sprinkle in from start to finish. He is obviously a witty, intelligent and observant person who likes to ask questions and tends to look a bit deeper beneath the surface wherever possible. The little remarks he makes about himself and his entourage are often funny and revealing in equal measure.
Speaking of his entourage, we do get to meet some members of his family, namely his mother and brother, and while they don’t take the centre stage in this exposition, the author still takes a great amount of care in describing them with great precision, both physically and mentally. They too, bring their share of misery, joy and laughter into the author’s life.
In my opinion, the crux of the comedy in this book lays in Rick Bragg‘s ability to look at the bright and funny side of the many disappointing elements of his life, chief among them being Speck. Rather than damning him for his unruly behaviour, he sees it as a source of comedy, and in it a life philosophy worthy of consideration; even the bad and lost boys have a place in this world.
More than a self-reflection or a dissertation on the bond between men and animals, it’s a celebration of dogs in general, the uniqueness each one of them carries within, and the special type of joy they bring with their truly pure love and child-like energy. There are no other beings quite like them, and I think there can never be too opulent a commemoration to the role they play in our lives.
|256||Knopf||Sept. 21 2021||978-0525658818|
The Final Verdict
The Speckled Beauty by Rick Bragg is an excellent autobiographical book which explores in great depth the author’s tragic struggles, and Speck, the lawless, damaged and impulsive dog who barged into his existence, making it immeasurably better. If you’re interested in works which explore the bond between Man and dog accompanied by plenty of insightful and humorous observations about life, then I believe this book will bring you untold amounts of pleasure.
VIDEO: Rick Bragg discusses his new book The Speckled Beauty
Rick Bragg is an American journalist and author who primarily specializes in non-fiction books, mostly centred on his family in Alabama. In 1996 he won a Pulitzer Prize in recognition of his work at The New York Times. His works include Wooden Churches, Ava’s Man, I Am a Soldier, Too, and The Speckled Beauty.