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Book Reviews

Milt Gross Book Review: "Hound-Dog Man" by the late Fred Gibson
By Milton M. Gross
Aug 24, 2014 - 12:05:06 AM

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Hound-Dog Man took me back to a childhood I didn't have, although I did wander the woods a great deal, saw a good bit of wildlife, and eventually moved to Maine because of her woods, mountains, and lakes. Milt Gross photo.
The novel Hound-Dog Man by Fred Gibson reminds me of an old John Gould Book, The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine or some title like that.

But except for their both being old books, they are entirely different. The humorous The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine took place in and around Mattawamkeag, which is not far south of being in far northern Maine. (It's also where the two-nation French gathering is currently taking place. But for our purposes, it's where John Gould's tale took place.)

Gibson's 1949 Hound-Dog Man took place in Texas, some distance from Mattawamkeag. Both are juvenile novels, both feature dogs, but that's where the similarity ends.

I forget most of Gould's tale of a dog. Gibson's, published by Harper & Brothers Publishers, NY, focuses on a boy, Cotton Kinney, who badly wants a dog. He also wants to live his life learning from and imitating Blackie, a kind of never-do-well wanderer who loves to hunt and fish.

Kinney's parents discourage the dog desire, wanting their son to grow to be successful. Success didn't deal with hound dogs in their view, although Cotton's father was himself a part-time hunter and lover of dogs.

With Gibson's homey touch, Cotton, about whom Gibson writes in the first person, is invited to go raccoon (called "coon") hunting. In the middle of the book, Grandpa says the prophetic words, "Keep your freedom as long as nature'll permit. Don't never marry till you just can't put if off no longer."

Which prophesy of a fiction tale tells the story. The hunting adventures are fast, furious, and funny. But in the end, though a strange set of circumstances, Blackie gets married. (Actually we last know of him riding off at night with his bride to be in a wagon.)

Near the end, Cotton says, "I knew it would never be the same now. Blackie wouldn't get to prowl when and where he wanted to any more. There'd always be a woman with him -- or waiting for him to come in. There'd never be another coon hunt like this that had started out so fine. Me and Spud (Cotton's friend, my note) we'd never get to go live with Blackie in his shack on Birdsong Creek. We'd never get to learn all the big secrets of the woods."

But he did learn romance was definitely part of life, and that eventually it took over from the woods. He also learned that life in the long run happened after the woods.

This was a juvenile story in 1949, but I doubt if many kids could understand the language or follow the tales these days. That could be the result of modern education and publication, where things get kind of watered down for juvenile consumption.

Today's juvenile books which I've read generally don't directly deal with sex or other real-life issues, and they don't call a dog a Nigger dog, the latter from a sense of not offending the black race. But in 1949, they had Nigger dogs, which in the case of the one that eventually became Cotton's hound, was black.

I'd kind of like to experience today's juvenile, say a junior or senior high school student, reading Gibson's tale of a black dog that was laced with good outdoor adventure from start to finish.

Gibson was born on a Texas farm in 1908, where he eventually returned to take up freelance writing. He had quit several newspaper jobs and been fired from one, according to the back cover. That first year of freelancing, Gibson earned $150, and since then his work has appeared in many magazines. Old Yeller was his best-known book. Hound-Dog Man, his first novel, won a Book-of-the Month Club place.

Amazon.com describes it as a "Well-written story of hound dogs, raccoons, turkeys, an old coon hunter and a couple of young boys."

No price is on the copy Dolores found at the town recycling center last week, but Amazon.com lists the used hardcover for one cent , and the paperback for $17.96.

If you're a man who lived similar adventures, or who wished you had, or if you're a man or woman wanting to read a great juvenile tale, find your own copy -- whether at a used book store, Amazon.com, or your town recycling center.

I'd loan you my copy, but it's becoming one of those old favorites that will clutter up our study for a long, long time.


Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@roadrunner.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2014


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