Book Review: The Speckled Beauty by Rick Bragg

By Debbie Stone and Gini Cunningham

Debbie:  When I was in 7th grade, my friend Julie Miller and I had plans to grow up and have a dog farm together. 

We loved dogs so much, we planned our ‘farm’ down to the minutest detail. (Sigh.) We decided we’d keep them all and love them all - we never had plans to sell them, just to love them.

Fast forward 50 years and no, that dog farm never did materialize, but my love for dogs has stayed the same. Although we are a one dog at a time only family, it always makes me hesitate to read a ‘dog book’ in case the dog farm idea resurfaces.

I mean, dog books are so sad, exciting, poignant and funny, but always sad in the end. Well, I’m here to tell you (spoiler alert) the dog does not die!

The book is still exciting, poignant and funny - and sometimes sad, but this is a delightful story of a man and his dog.  It’s a book full of stories about a dog, far from perfect, a troublemaker, who ingratiates himself into the author’s family with his antics and escapades. It’s a dog book, it’s a memoir, it’s a great read.

I am a huge Rick Bragg fan and I listened to this on audio, which I highly recommend if you are into audio books. It is narrated by the author and I loved the cadence of his speech and his southern Alabama colloquialisms. 

While Gini states it took awhile to get used them, I was there from the beginning. Bragg shares stories from his childhood to his present-day experiences. 

The dog, whose name is Spec (for Speckled Beauty) takes center stage in most of the essays. As I mentioned the dog is naughty and a troublemaker, but as always, he steals the show and our hearts. As dogs usually do.

I’m going out on a limb to say this book is for dog lovers everywhere. And if you like southern essays, it’s a twofer. Two for one! A win-win of a book!  

Gini: Yes, for pet lovers and even pet not-so-much lovers, this book creates magic. 

True, in the early pages Bragg’s Alabama local expressions dismayed my grammar-oriented mind, all of the sudden I discovered myself twanging along in perfect tune with his writing style.

 I knew of him as a good writer and so his use of “of” instead of “have” and alternating between calling his mom Mother and then the old woman, I had not prepared my brain for his downhome approach. But as he rolled along and introduced rescue-dog Speck, I enjoyed each page.

I hope you have experienced a good dog, a well-mannered pet, as well as participated in the antics of a terrible dog. That’s the story woven about a tangled-mass-of-hair and scars who becomes an integral part of the family. Speck has survived several years on his own, running with the pack, fighting dogs, beasts, snakes, and barbed wire, when he enters the Bragg’s yard. Covered with mud, dirt, and manure, you might wonder how he becomes a beloved friend, but he does. 

Speck’s tales alternate between the old woman and her treats and biscuits, the surly brother Sam and his distaste (then love) for spoiled, indoor pets, and Bragg who finds amazement in his dog attachment as he heads to the vet for one more series of stitches or cleans up the ruinous mass of feathers and fabric from Speck’s latest dog bed attack.

I stopped by Debbie’s office to drop off the ADF-Winnemucca Lecture Series flyers and we launched into conversation on this book. “Have you finished?” she asked. To my no response she added, “Don’t worry, he doesn’t die.” My immediate thoughts went to the dog as it seems animal stories always cause me to weep. The next morning as I ran, I reflected on the past several books I’ve read that each had its own variation on, “Don’t jump to conclusions. People and stories possess complexity.”4When I returned to finish reading the last few chapters: the author Rick is been extremely ill; Sam has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; Speck battles more opportunities for death dozens of time. Why did “he” need to be the dog with the medical tragedies of the other male characters?

As Rick states, “I am just saying that there is a backstory to almost everything.” I’m learning.