December 14, 2006

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The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog, by Dave Barry (Putnam, 2006)
By Lisa Parsons news@hippopress.com.

Why don't stories like this ever happen to me?

Maybe it didn't exactly happen to Dave Barry either, this story with a frozen dog propped up in a manger and a brick of bat poop falling from a belfry. After all, it's not about Dave Barry, it's about Doug Barnes, and it's not in Armonk, where Barry grew up; it's in Asquont, a fictional town which only happens to be right where Armonk is.

And it's filed under fiction and Barry dedicates it to "the wonderful quirky people I grew up with in Armonk, New York," saying, "Any resemblance between them and the characters in this book is, frankly, a bewildering coincidence."

So.

Why don't stories like this ever happen to me? I mean, sure, Dave Barry has a way with words, but really you can't go wrong with content like this. It's 1960 and he and his pals are unable to take their Christmas pageant roles as seriously as their elders would like. His friend Mike takes the stage in full Wise Man costume with a rubber cigar in his mouth (you know, "We three kings of Orient are...") and does other things that make Barry—or Doug Barnes, that is—PMPL. Meanwhile the family dog is near death's door, which will devastate young Becky, and when the dog finally dies they don't want to tell her until she gets through the pageant, so ... ultimately there's a frozen dog in a manger and a different but very similar dog going home in the family car, but it's not as deceptive as that sounds.

And I can't even tell you about the brick of frozen bat guano that falls out of the belfry.

Because you just have to read it for yourself, and I won't give away everything.

It's a little story you can read within an evening, enhanced with authentic 1970s photos (clip arty kinds of things, mostly, but they evoke the right mindset—the Oldsmobile station wagon, the transistor radio in the leather-like case, the ads with Santa shilling Lucky Strikes because they're smoothest on his throat), graced with an actual photo of Dave Barry in 1962 to provide hope to young nerds and reassurance to older former nerds everywhere.

Newspaper column-wise, Dave Barry was funny and then not funny and then occasionally slightly funny. Book-wise, I liked his early stuff a lot, didn't see much need for the later compilations, and enjoyed his recent Peter Pan collaborations with Ridley Scott.

The Shepherd, The Angel and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog is Barry in good form—maybe a smoother, more mature form than before, like a younger, cooler Jean Shepherd.

It kind of makes me want to go sign up to play a Wise Man in a Christmas pageant, just so I can bring a cigar. A — Lisa Parsons.