ANOTHER LANGUAGE: PORTRAITS OF
ASSISTANCE DOGS AND THEIR PEOPLE
By Jeanne Braham
Photos by Robert Floyd
Sunderland author Jeanne Braham, who has written about poets and a small-town’s response to the AIDS epidemic, offers a different kind of portrait in “Another Language.” The subject here is the often-remarkable bonds that develop between service dogs and the people the dogs are trained to assist, as well as the trainers of the animals.
In lengthy profiles done in a basic Q&A format, Braham interviews a range of people — injured combat veterans, dog trainers and breeders, men and women in wheelchairs — who work with or benefit from service dogs, which are trained to help people with numerous tasks, from picking up shoes to alerting them to a ringing phone.
There’s Heidi Martin-Coleman of Easthampton, for example, who struggles with mitochondrial disease, which impairs sight and hearing and can produce muscle weakness and shortness of breath, among other symptoms. With her service dog, Mercury, a black Labrador, she’s become much more confident and optimistic in recent years: “Each day our bond grew stronger. His trust in me encouraged me to trust myself.”
Braham, who has taught at Smith and Hampshire colleges, comes to the book with some personal interest. Her father had hoped to raise guide dogs after his retirement — a heart attack cut that plan short — and Braham also cared for her older sister for several years after she developed ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. As well, she helped care for her aged mother, who lived to 101.
“The challenges of the disabled became a real part of my daily life,” she writes, “and yet I realized that I, like many others, had little awareness and even less information about the support and services assistance dogs can provide.”
“Another Language” doesn’t just tell these stories with words — it’s richly illustrated with color images of dogs and their owners and trainers taken by Southampton photographer Robert Floyd. For dog lovers, many of those images, like the one of Susan Goodwin and the Labradoodles she raises, might be worth the book’s purchase alone.
THE RIVER OF NO RETURN
By Bee Ridgway
Amherst native Bee Ridgway, who now lives in Philadelphia and teaches American literature at Bryn Mawr College, has made her debut as a novelist with a literary genre-bender, a mash-up of history, fantasy, romance and mystery that also makes frequent nods to 19th-century literature.
At the center of “The River of No Return” is Nick Davenant, or Lord Nicholas Falcott, depending on which time period you’re in. Lord Falcott, a British soldier, is about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield when he suddenly jumps forward two centuries, waking in a hospital in modern London.
Lord Nicholas is brought up-to-date on 21st century life and given his new name by members of The Guild, an ancient order that oversees time travel and is responsible for intercepting accidental time travelers like Nick; by controlling the flow of time, The Guild controls both the past and the future.
Nick spends a decade in the modern world, moving between New York, Vermont and London, but then the Guild tells him he is to be sent back to 19th-century England — 1815, specifically — where he is tasked with serving as an emissary in a war The Guild is waging against a group called The Ofan, its rival for time-travel control.
Nick is happy to be reunited with his sisters, his mother and his lost love interest, Julia Percy, but he has little grasp of the power politics at play in his old homeland and time. And when Julia discovers she has a mysterious talent similar to Nick’s, the couple must work together to protect themselves as they seek to discover how to negotiate the treacherous river of time.
Ridgway, who is the daughter of Amherst poet and writing teacher Pat Schneider, says she was inspired to write her novel in part from her own experience of living in rural Vermont and her interest and scholarly background in 19th-century history and literature. In addition, her students’ interest in modern literature and mixed-genre books piqued her curiosity.
“That’s been a huge eye opener to me, and frankly, if I hadn’t worked with such brilliant, questing students who have introduced me to such wonderful books, I would never have written ‘The River of No Return,’ ” she writes.