The Pain of Being Apart

SounderI was away last week, and greatly missed my cat Misty. Which reminded me that reading about fictional characters who miss a living animal or a living person can be a very poignant thing. Hopefully followed by a happy reunion, but not always.

For instance, there’s the unnamed African-American boy in William H. Armstrong’s novel Sounder who deeply misses his dog after it’s cruelly shot while chasing a white sheriff’s deputy following the arrest of the boy’s father. The gravely injured Sounder disappears, and might be dead or alive. Some happiness but mostly sadness ensues in the book, which was made into an excellent 1972 movie (photo above).

Speaking of injured canines, struggling alcoholic farmer Link Ferris finds one by the side of the road in Albert Payson Terhune’s His Dog. Turns out to be a thoroughbred collie that had fallen off a vehicle, and the lonely Link keeps him after no one responds to his attempt to find the owners. Link and Chum (as he names the dog) develop an intensely strong bond, and Chum inspires Link to stop drinking and become successful. Eventually, the dog’s original owners come back into the picture, and the separation melancholy is overwhelming for Link and Chum. Then…

Moving on to missed humans, there’s one time period in J.K. Rowling’s four-books-so-far Cormoran Strike series where Cormoran and his investigative partner Robin Ellacott have a falling out. They miss each other professionally and, given the friendship and romantic tension between the two, personally as well.

Definitely missing each other romantically are Arkady Renko and Irina Asanova, who part ways at the end of Martin Cruz Smith’s novelΒ Gorky Park — leaving readers to wonder if, when, and how they might reunite in one of the sequels.

Of course, war-themed novels often have characters who miss each other while one of them is in the military far way. For instance, Herman Wouk’s World War II novel The Caine Mutiny features the apart-for-years Navy man Willie Keith and his singer girlfriend May Wynn. L.M. Montgomery’s World War I novel Rilla of Ingleside has Canadian soldier Walter (son of the adult Anne of Anne of Green Gables) being intensely missed by his family — including his sister Rilla. And in Charles Frazier’s Civil War novel Cold Mountain, Ada Monroe and wounded Confederate Army deserter W.P. Inman greatly miss each other as Inman walks for months trying to return home.

Sometimes the one who’s off fighting dies.

Also set during WWII is Erich Maria Remarque’s The Night in Lisbon, in which a refugee from Nazi Germany relates the dramatic story of he and his wife Helen — their heartbreaking separation, their reunion, and the relationship’s ultimate fate.

Your favorite novels in which a character is much missed?

Oh, Misty was well taken care of by someone we had visit our apartment three times a day. πŸ™‚

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest weekly piece — about a controversial hotel and an anti-gun-violence mural — is here.

71 thoughts on “The Pain of Being Apart

  1. I had a pet dog when I was a kid, he died long ago, still I feel the attachment, after him we never brought any pet at home, i hope he is resting in peace. Thanks for the article. Its beautiful.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The Pain ?

    This broke my heart today, will broke all of yours Animal Lovers.

    Today, I went to the vet to get food for Pomchi .

    One gentleman was crying so hard leaning on his car, then I went in, this woman holding a German Shephard doing the same thing , sobbing as if her heart is shattered into pieces..
    So I asked her gently, she said their 5 month old puppy, jumped from the open window in their running car.

    I hope it was instsant, The whole office were there consoling them.
    I have a feeling they brought the ailing puppy in.

    I could not ask the Vet`s office, they had to maintain privace.


  3. The pet whose part in literature includes literally being apart after being, yet not in pain, is Bendico, the Great Dane beloved of Prince Fabrizio in Lampedusa’s novel, “The Leopard”. After his death, Bendico is skinned, the skin saved as a keepsake. Decades later, the Prince himself long dead, the skin is discarded from a height to the ground:

    “During the flight down from the window his form recomposed itself. For an instant in the air one could have seen dancing a quadruped with long whiskers, and its right foreleg seemed to be raised in imprecation. Then all found peace in a heap of livid dust.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My hippie-band household was for a time under the care of a dog, who we named BOffo. It was Nashville, in 1970, and hot, so a couple of us were languishing about on the porch as a storm gathered above us. Mostly we were were hoping to get cooled off in the ensuing downpour, and we got that, but we also got a buff-colored forty pound dog,who ran up on our porch as the first drops hit the ground, short-haired, with burrs on his legs and belly, motor oil in patches on his back, and a fine road grit that had permeated between every hair. His tag read Huntsville AL.

    We had also recently acquired two bushy noisy little pups from departing neighbors, who had for some weeks greeted the dawn and then everybody and everything with loud yaps and much frisking about behind the screen door till the perceived intruders had moved down the sidewalk. When Boffo ran up, these little dogs were on the porch with us, yet they yapped not a yap, but silently approached, and as if on signal, began to lick him. Authority had arrived, and with it, calm descended on the little ones.

    Boffo stayed with us till the next Spring, by which time he had a gleaming coat and a few more pounds and quite the eye for the ladies, any breed, any time. He took to sleeping under a thick bush on the Vanderbilt campus, rain or shine, so as to be near the female pets of attendees. Even by rope, he could not be persuaded to return to us, as we were, by comparison to his present company, unattractive and no competition. Last time I saw him, weeks later, he was sleeping under that bush, but for years, I wondered what he did next. He was certainly more than capable of coming up whatever he needed.

    We took him, in the winter before that fateful spring, to a store several miles out of town, by car. When we opened the car door, he ran out, and off down the road, and then through a few yards, and we lost track. We were worried enough about him that we cut the trip short, and went home. Boffo was waiting for us on the porch.

    Part of me, the credulous part, believes he may well have walked to Nashville all the way from Huntsville. He was that kind of dog.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My mother read us “The Incredible Journey”, in which a cat and 2 dogs make their way across many miles, various terrain and through a good many close scrapes to rejoin their owners– here is a case when the pets miss their people, demonstrably and with fortitude.

    I used to think the book told a true story, and it might have, but something tells me it’s ‘true’ like the “Little House” books of LI Wilder: truish, with embroidery.

    In total contrast to the denizens of “The Incredible Journey”, I cite that layabout Greyfriar’s Bobby, who never went anywhere and had all his meals delivered!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jhNY, I’ve read “The Incredible Journey” novel and seen the movie version, and loved them both! But, yes, there has to be a lot of fictional aspects to the story even if perhaps there’s some real-life truth in it.


      • I note you have completely ignored my comment re Bobby. Perhaps such hard truths are too much for you to take in. I wrote originally ‘for you to bear’ but changed it, as I wanted to stay on the topic of dogs.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I didn’t respond to that part of the comment because I hadn’t heard of Greyfriars Bobby. πŸ™‚ Just looked him up on Wikipedia. Quite a contrast with the traveling quadrupeds in “The Incredible Journey” — and what loyalty! Reminds me of the doggie in “Rilla of Ingleside” waiting at a Canadian train station for his soldier person to return from Europe during World War I.


  6. Dave: You might also mention books (made into movies) by our mutual friend W. Bruce Cameron, “A Dog’s Purpose” and “A Dog’s Journey,” etc. People miss dogs in those books, including one who gets reincarnated several times. Leave it to Bruce to reincarnate dogs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Bill, for mentioning what I didn’t mention! There are few writers better known for dog-related novels than Bruce, and he’s a really nice guy. I imagine dogs would love to also be rein-open-car-window-nated. πŸ˜‰


  7. Perhaps your inkstained daughter might get a laff at my latest attempt at cleverness; perhaps you also:

    In the age of Trump the NYT masthead should read: All the fits are news to print.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I still cry when I read The Yearling! β€œA mark was on him from the day’s delight, so that all his life, when April was a thin green and the flavor of rain was on his tongue, an old wound would throb and a nostalgia would fill him for something he could not quite remember.” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Dave, I wrote this somewhere a couple of years ago…

    One lady a neighbor, 90 plus a few years ago driving with her daughter and saw this large, short haired, white male dog on the highway at least 150 pounds, the daughter went back and brought him home with them and named him Tucker . Since then, Tucker is that Lady`s constant companion and now the lady is home-bound with angel-care , after hip surgery and what not.
    Tucker, believe it or not is big and strong and wants to be a lap dog.

    Yesterday I was going to visit the Lady with a box of chocolates, angel-care asked my name from the door and Tucker snuck away. She panicked and so did I, Ms. Mimi pleaded with me , please get Tucker back. Tucker trotted along in my neighborhood toward the creek and this handsome man playing ball with his stepson, was visiting his mom from Seattle.

    He got hold of Tucker the angel-care woman walked back Tucker home holding his collier. He trotted back with her and did not resist.

    Funny as i was 30 ft behind, Tucker looked back once if I am following.

    I am still so grateful to get Tucker back to Lady and that young man was godsend,
    I wrote to his mom with my gratitude.

    It could have been a disaster but we were saved with grace

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thanks for mentioning Rilla of Ingleside! One of my favorite books in the series, although maybe the most heartbreaking.

    Talk of missing animals makes me think of Black Beauty, in which the horses (and pony) Beauty, Ginger, and Merrylegs are separated when the master dies, and Beauty misses his companions for years afterwards.

    As for humans missing each other (and their horses), there’s a not very well known series of historical fiction/romance called β€œThe Legend of the Five Directions” set in 16th-century Russia. The main characters are a mixture of Russians and a Tatars who make arranged marriages with each other. Between this and the long military campaigns the men go on, the characters spend significant amounts of time separated from their parents, siblings, spouses, and, of course, prized horses. I have to recommend it to anyone who enjoys really well-researched historical fiction or romanceβ€”the author is a Russian scholar and translator who took up writing fiction. The books also stand out in the historical romance genre for having non-white, non-Christian protagonists.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Elena! “Rilla of Ingleside” was indeed heartbreaking, and I agree that it was one of L.M. Montgomery’s best “Anne of Green Gables” sequels. (My other favorite sequel in that series is “Anne’s House of Dreams.”) Of course, the original “Anne of Green Gables” can’t be beat. πŸ™‚

      Excellent mention of “Black Beauty,” and C.P. Lesley’s “The Legend of the Five Directions” sounds very much worth reading. (I also just googled more info about it.) Well summarized by you!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Just seeing the name Albert Payson Terhune made me tear up. Without his books, my childhood would’ve been very lonely. My parents wouldn’t allow me to have a dog because they thought I wouldn’t take care of it. They were probably right. But having a dog in the pages of Terhune’s books helped some. Thanks for mentioning him as I regard him, an unmet author, as having been a true friend.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, thepatterer, for your deeply felt comment. Albert Payson Terhune is such a moving writer, and I can see why both younger and older readers love his work. Very sorry your parents wouldn’t let you have a dog. You might very well have taken care of it wonderfully! I regret never having a cat until I was an adult — my parents weren’t pet people. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m so sorry, Dave! We always had dogs and cats! Our childhood dog was Rinny, a black cocker spaniel mix that Daddy brought home when we were 3. A stray dog had puppies at the county shop where Daddy worked. He was my constant companion until I was 16. He would follow me to the garden and dig a hole under the pole beans (killing them) to keep himself cool while I worked. One day Momma got so angry that she tried to run him out of the garden by throwing clods of dirt at him. He got up, looked at her, looked at me, and walked over to me and stuck his head between my knees and glared up at her with a “throw them now, bitch” expression on his face.

        In his later years he had spells of not being able to walk and I would have to carry him back home since he followed me everywhere. Eventually, it reached a point where he needed to be put down since we didn’t have the money beyond that. I miss him still! I swore that if I ever had another dog, he/she would have all the vet care needed! I’ve kept that promise!

        Liked by 4 people

        • Thank you, lulabelle. πŸ™‚

          Such great and interesting memories you offered of Rinny! A really compelling comment by you. Sounds like he was an absolutely wonderful dog, and you treated him so kindly — as you have all your animals (and other animals) since.

          Cost is definitely a factor when it comes to having companion animals. I feel awful for the animals, and for their “owners,” when the vet bills pile up and there isn’t a lot of extra money to be had. We spent about $2,000 in vet bills last year trying to get Misty the cat’s asthma under control, and now spend about $125 a month in inhaler costs to maintain his now-great health. Luckily, we could and can (barely) afford all that, but many people can’t. I wouldn’t mind Medicare for All for not only people but also pets!


          • Health care IS expensive, especially the medications to treat our furry friends! You did what you needed to do for Misty and that’s wonderful! I applaud you for it!

            However, some pets don’t get the care they need because of misplaced priorities. I have paid to have several dogs spayed and many of those owners had a cigarette dangling out of their mouths. I sat beside a woman at the nail salon recently who was getting a manicure, pedicure, and eyebrows waxed (to the tune of $70) who couldn’t get her 12 year old chihuahua spayed because she “couldn’t afford it”.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thank you!

              Depressingly true that some people with pets have the wrong spending priorities. 😦 Sorry that you’ve had to deal with that. (And a pet’s human being a smoker doesn’t do the pet’s health any good if it’s an indoor or mostly indoor animal. 😦 )


  12. I still haven’t recovered from the death of my dog about 6 years ago and don’t know if I have what it takes to try again. As for books, I read “Ordinary People” by Judith Guest many years ago. It scared me to imagine how people live through losing a child.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Becky, for your heartfelt comment. Sorry about your dog’s passing six years ago. 😦 It IS hard to recover from the death of a beloved pet. As I mentioned to another commenter, it was five years from the 2012 death of our cat Angus before we brought another cat (Misty) into our household. Very happy we did.

      And thank you for the very relevant mention of “Ordinary People” — as you know, better known for the film version (which I saw) than the novel (which I haven’t read). Dealing with the loss of a child is almost unimaginable, but it happened to me in 1990 (she was 3). It had a huge affect on my life, and one never completely gets over something like that, but I do feel I’ve had many happy years since then. Having two other children has helped greatly.

      Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you for the comment, cbholganza. Very sorry abut the death of your daughter’s cat companion.

      As you know, people have different time spans before they’re comfortable inviting another animal into their household. Could be immediate, could be much longer. In my family’s case, for various reasons, we waited more than five years after our previous cat died before getting Misty in late 2017. Anyway, it seems when she wants another kitty would be totally up to your daughter!

      Liked by 1 person

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