Some novels read like old friends. They’re familiar and comfortable but yet still find little ways to make you smile at every turn. Unfortunately, Together: A Story of Shared Vision by Tom Sullivan with Betty White is no such story. Sullivan and White’s tale lacks any originality and comes off more like a joke you’ve heard a thousand times that has long since lost its humor.
I should start with this disclaimer: I dislike being overly critical of any creative or artistic work. I know it can be incredibly difficult to bring something new and different to life whether it is on paper, on screen or some other medium. I also know that sometimes the author of the work doesn’t have much say in what goes on during the editorial process and is oftentimes forced to compromise his/her story in order to make it more palatable to the general public. That being said, I can’t in good conscience recommend this book to any serious or even casual reader without warning them of the potential hazards.
Together is the story of twenty-something aspiring doctor Brenden McCarthy as he struggles with becoming blind after a mountain climbing accident. Before the accident he is quite literally on top of the world, he has a great career opportunity, he’s dating the prettiest girl at school (who is an aspiring lawyer) and he’s athletic to boot. After he loses his sight, Brenden questions his self worth and considers suicide until he gets trained to work with a seeing-eye dog named Nelson.
Nelson is a pooch with a checkered past. He was abandoned as a puppy before he was found by Smitty, a dog trainer, and given a chance at a better life. Nelson is the rebel of the seeing-eye dog community because he is strong-willed and full of energy at times. Yet Smitty, the wise and loyal trainer, sees something special in Nelson that could make him the best guide dog ever, if only they could find the right partner.
These clichés are all introduced in the first five or six chapters of the book. There are more, including Brenden’s best friend Charlie being nicknamed “Spider” because of his mountain climbing ability and Brenden’s incredibly pretty girlfriend (a fact that is brought up repeatedly) Lindsay being the shallowest person on the planet. All of the characters are only marginally developed and what little you are given seems like it was pulled from a can labeled “Instant Archetype Personality.” There doesn’t seem to be any uniqueness to the story and it only takes a handful of pages before the reader sees exactly where it’s going. Admittedly, this can be a good thing if you are reading a mystery and piece together a set of clues. In this case however, it only serves to make the novel drag on endlessly.
The low-lights continue when the book tries to be dramatic and fails in almost comic fashion. One such instance is when Brenden meets Lindsay at her apartment. After coming to a revelation about the nature of their relationship, Brenden proclaims that Lindsay is as “ugly as a corpse in a cesspool” on the inside. The whole scene and the dialogue throughout the book reeks of something you’d see in a TV movie. That is, before you changed the channel.
There is a bright spot in the author’s storytelling, though. When Sullivan describes the relationship between the guide dogs and their owners, he provides insight you aren’t likely to find anywhere else. This is probably due to Mr. Sullivan’s own experience with seeing-eye dogs over the years as he has been blind since age three. I only wish this sort of depth have been used for the characters in the novel as he shows an ability to convey a connection and partnership that is unfamiliar to most readers. And although a decent portion of the book is spent describing this relationship, it is still not enough to cover the story’s flaws.
In the end, I’m sad I can’t say something more positive about Together. At best, it is unremarkable and requires little thought. That is unfortunate when the author had the opportunity for such a unique angle on the story. I understand the authors wanted to stress how much a guide dog can change a blind individual’s life, I just wish Sullivan and White would have avoided the clichés and focused more on the strengths of the story. If you feel like losing a few hours of your life to this book, go ahead. Just don’t expect to get much out of it. – Reviewed by Mike Griffin
Together: A Story of Shared Vision
By Tom Sullivan & Betty White
240 pages, 2009, Thomas Nelson, Inc.