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A wise and heartwarming first novel about families, love lost and found, and a scrappy three-legged dog who is trying to find his way back home as Christmas approaches. Roam features a seven-part soundtrack—composed and performed by the author—accessible online and embedded in the eBook.
They say you never forget your first love . . .
Born under a sparkling crescent moon, Nelson is a bright-eyed, inquisitive half beagle, half poodle. He lives with Katey and Don, newlyweds whose marriage is straining under the pressures of domesticity, but Katey’s devotion to Nelson buoys the pup even as he worries his home may be falling apart.
But there are few things Nelson likes better than to follow a scent, and one day he follows his nose and gets lost . . . very lost. Though he searches frantically for Katey—and she for him—Nelson can’t seem to find his way home, and he soon realizes that if he’s ever to see his great love again, he must make his way on his own and try to survive in the wild.
Over the course of eight years, Roam follows Nelson as he crosses the country searching for his family. For a time he rides shotgun with a truck driver named Thatcher, then he lives in the woods with a pack of wolves. A terrible accident takes his hind leg, but Nelson’s strength and longing to find Katey keep him alive. Escaping death in a shelter, Nelson grows into an old dog with a cynical eye and a world-weary demeanor, but underneath it all, a fearless and courageous spirit. After all, he believes that one day he’ll make it home . . . and maybe, just maybe, he will. . . .
Much more than the story of one dog’s incredible journey, this is a deeply moving story of survival and enduring love, which once again confirms the unbreakable bond between humans and their best friends. In the tradition of The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Roam is an unforgettable tale of love lost and found, the trials that test families, and an affirmation that no matter how far or how long you may travel, there’s always a place you can call home.
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Alan Lazar is a platinum-selling musician/composer who has composed music for more than thirty films and TV shows. He lives in Los Angeles, California.
The first thing Nelson smelled was grass. Rich, beautiful, mysterious grass. It wafted in from the pastures outside Mrs. Anderson’s farmhouse, where Nelson and his brothers and sisters lay wriggling, close to their mother. His small nose wrinkled, perplexed by this powerful new stimulus. When he was in his mother’s womb, he had whiffed it in the distance as his nose’s power expanded exponentially. But when the full power of grass hit him out in the world, it was scary, intoxicating, and deeply mysterious.
The smell had many layers to it. As the years went by, Nelson would learn to discern the meaning of those multiple deep scents. They held information about the day—which creatures had walked nearby and left their mark, how much dew there had been that morning, and hints of the distant meadows where that dew had come from. They held information about the rain two days earlier and about the ants and other bugs that lived in the grass. But also, deep from within the soil in which it grew, the grass held sometimes murky hints about summers past, and winters from long ago, about the creatures that had lived and died in the New Hampshire county where Nelson was born. It held the history of all the roots and bones that had lain in that rich soil for centuries.
Nelson was one of a litter of six mutts. In fact, he was not meant to be a mutt. Mrs. Anderson had bred pedigree beagles and poodles for many years. Her puppies sold for thousands of dollars each and were shipped to locations all across America. Nelson’s mother, Lola, a gentle apricot miniature poodle, had given birth to several litters of puppies before. Nelson’s father, King, a beagle much photographed as a perfect specimen at the annual county fair, was not meant to gain access to Lola’s compound when she was in heat two months earlier. He had successfully impregnated Nougat, another beagle, several times, and Mrs. Anderson adored him. But she had planned for Lola to breed with her normal mate, Kennedy, a dark brown poodle with a warm heart. She had no idea that King had been bewitched by Lola’s rich bouquet as it wafted from her kennel the previous spring. Noticing the beginnings of a small hole under the wooden fence surrounding Lola’s kennel, King dug furiously when Mrs. Anderson was not around, and lovemaking with Lola followed. Mrs. Anderson suspected nothing until Lola’s pups came out one day looking unlike anything she had seen. She had a moment of anger when she realized what King had done. She also had a moment of regret when she realized that the thousands of dollars she knew she would make from a pedigree poodle litter was not to be. But when she held Nelson’s older sister in the palm of her hand and felt the little dog’s heart beating, her own heart swiftly melted, and she knew she would raise these puppies for the first two months of their lives with all the love she normally gave to her pedigree pups.
Mrs. Anderson was accustomed to seeing two or three pups in a poodle litter. Lola gave birth to six this time. Perhaps it was King’s unrelenting lovemaking to Lola that had caused this anomaly. The fragrance of Lola in heat was so utterly compelling that each time he thought their lovemaking was coming to an end King somehow felt another burst of energy inside his beagle heart.
The six puppies that emerged from her small frame surprised Lola. She was sad when number four lay there, unmoving, after he emerged. After she ate the small bag of afterbirth that had protected him in the womb, she licked him again and again, trying to bring him back to life. Mrs. Anderson watched, praying for some movement, but after half an hour, and not a sign of life, she gently pulled the small pup away from Lola and wrapped him in a white towel. Later that night she would burn his remains and scatter them in the pastures outside her farmhouse. She would look up at the crescent moon and pray for the little dog that had never known the world beyond his mother’s womb.
Lola felt an intangible sadness come over her as she saw her pup disappear from sight. But she could not be sad for long. The convulsions in her stomach started again, and soon enough, another beautiful puppy emerged into the world. Nelson was largely light brown, or apricot, with splashes of white, particularly over his face. A dark brown circle surrounded the one eye, and a white circle surrounded the other. From an early age this gave all the impression that he was “wide-eyed” and fascinated by the world. But at the time of his birth, his eyes were firmly closed, as they would be for the first week of his life.
His nose twitched excitedly as the smell of grass filled his world for the first time. He felt his mother lick him, and her scent, too, filled his senses, rich and comforting. Mrs. Anderson entered the room again, noticed the new puppy and patted him ever so gently on his small head. And so, he whiffed a human being for the first time, and that smell, although complex, was also warm and good.
This was a lot to happen to such a young soul in the first minutes of his life, and Nelson was suddenly struck by an overwhelming hunger. His mother saw the quivers in his small body, and those of her other pups. She pushed and pushed and her final puppy, Nelson’s little sister, emerged into the world, wriggling and sniffing. Gently, Mrs. Anderson placed each of the puppies near Lola’s six nipples, and they wriggled inward toward their first meal.
The first week of Nelson’s life passed in a blur. As the days went by, his nose explored with greater and greater skill the scents around him. Then hunger would strike again. Sometimes Lola would be sleeping when he crawled toward her, desperate for sustenance. He did not know of course how exhausted she was from feeding her five surviving puppies. Secretly, Mrs. Anderson was very concerned. Lola was a small dog by any standard. Once, many years before, another poodle owned by Mrs. Anderson, Lola’s grandmother, had developed a severe calcium deficiency from feeding a large litter, and had died on the way to the emergency veterinary clinic in the small town of Nelson, New Hampshire, nearby. Mrs. Anderson had fed the remaining pups, including Lola’s gorgeous mother, a pearly white poodle, with a bottle every four hours.
Often Nelson would wake up to Lola licking his stomach. He loved this, and he liked the smell of the warm liquid that seemed to flow from his own body after she did this. Its smell would never last for too long. He would whiff Mrs. Anderson close by and feel her hands on his body, and then most of the smell of his excrement would be gone. Nelson soon noticed that all of his brothers and sisters had a similar liquid that would come out of their bodies. While it smelled very similar to his own, his little nose soon identified very specific scents in theirs that allowed him to identify them. Sometimes, when he suckled on his mother’s nipples, he would notice a very similar but much more intense odor coming from her. It was pungent and strong and earthy. Sometimes Mrs. Anderson would take Lola outside for an hour or two, and Nelson would quietly cry until this reassuring smell was close by again.
Smell would always be the great and overwhelming presence that defined Nelson’s perception of the world. But about a week after he was born, his little eyes drifted slowly open, and the comforting gray blur of Mrs. Anderson’s face looked down on him. Nelson was the first of the litter to look into the world, and with the special coloring he had around his eyes, Mrs. Anderson could only smile when she saw the wide-eyed puppy looking up at her. Her own eyes were slowly losing their ability to see, and the strong glasses the eye doctor had prescribed for her the summer before were probably going to need to be replaced soon. Many pups had passed through this small room at the back of her farmhouse where she looked after Lola’s and Nougat’s litters for many years after her own son had left to live in Oregon. Most puppies were cute and cuddly, and she adored them all. But there was something quite special about the way Nelson looked up at her that morning. Mrs. Anderson knew the eyesight of dogs was limited compared to that of humans. They did see more than just black and white, but they were color-blind when it came to reds and greens. She knew that dogs lacked the depth of field of human vision, although movement of any sort excited them. But Mrs. Anderson could swear she saw a special curiosity and openness to the world in Nelson’s wide eyes that morning. Many years later she still thought about him.
Soon, all of Lola’s five children had opened their eyes. She braced herself for what she sensed was to come. Their little legs would grow stronger, and they would develop rapidly, all the while hungering for more and more of her milk. Whereas at birth there was little hair on their soft bodies, it was just a few weeks before light and semicurly fur would clothe them. Lola had memories of the long sleep she had had in the months after her previous litters had left her, but she also remembered the sadness of those days.
By the time Nelson and his brothers and sisters were one month old, they were a rambunctious bunch. His family fascinated Nelson. They were all playful to an extreme, obsessed with tripping each other and tugging at each other’s now-full fur. But some of his siblings were quieter than the others, happy sometimes to just lie with their mother or each other, quietly wriggling while their scents intertwined. Others never gave up their pursuit of proving they were the most agile, the fastest, the ones who kept control of the ball of red wool Mrs. Anderson had thrown into the small pen they shared with their mother.
Nelson’s curiosity soon emerged as the trait that defined him. Mrs. Anderson noticed him constantly trying to find a way out of their small pen, and indeed one day he did. She entered the room, almost stepping on the tiny pup that was waiting by the door, smelling the new odors that glided in through the small gap between the door and the floor. Chiding him quietly, she picked him up and put him back with his family. It was just moments, though, before the wide-eyed puppy returned to the small opening he had found at the back of the pen and found his way out once again. She blocked it up with a pair of old socks. More and more, the smells that entered the room fed little Nelson’s curiosity. He whiffed sweet and meaty odors coming from a clangy place elsewhere in the house, aromas that made him so hungry even his mother’s milk did not entirely satisfy him.
Mrs. Anderson took to picking up Nelson every night and holding him in her large worn hands, stroking him quietly while she listened to music. Nelson loved this, and would drift off to sleep in a state of bliss. He would awake and lick her fingers in the same loving way his mother would lick his stomach, and she seemed to like this. He was not aware that he was the only puppy for which she reserved this special honor. Sometimes Mrs. Anderson held Nelson close to her face. By then his eyes were seeing a great degree of detail, and he observed her blue eyes looking directly at him. Sometimes he would lick her face, and a few times he tasted the salt of little tears. Later in his life he would come to understand the fuller meaning of this salty liquid that human beings sometimes emitted, but for now he just enjoyed its taste.
One morning, when Nelson was five weeks old, Mrs. Anderson put him and his siblings into a small box. Lola watched earnestly, but she did not stop Mrs. Anderson, with whom she had a deep bond of trust. Mrs. Anderson opened the door to their small pen and walked out of the room, carrying the box of pups. Lola walked close behind her.
Mrs. Anderson’s house was a little dark, but that of course did not limit the symphony of smells that Nelson inhaled as they passed through to the garden. There were the remnants of those kitchen smells, which he sometimes whiffed in the pen. There was the smell of meat, and fried eggs, and melted butter. There was the round, smooth aroma of pancakes cooked a couple of days before, which lingered in the corners of Mrs. Anderson’s living room. As they walked past the kitchen itself, the scent of green apples entered Nelson’s nose for the first time, and it was scintillating in a very different sort of way.
As they exited into Mrs. Anderson’s garden, Nelson’s head almost exploded from what entered his nose. First there was grass, endless amounts of it, and smelling it close up was profoundly more intense than its more distant scent. Mrs. Anderson placed each of the pups down on her front lawn and let them wander. Nelson’s small, wet nose touched grass for the first time, and it was like an electric current ran through his body. The puppies scattered over the lawn, as each was drawn by multiple separate strands and substrands of odor. Occasionally, if one pup got too close to the fence that separated the garden from the pasture where horses and cows milled around, Mrs. Anderson would pick it up and return it to a position closer to her house. Lola, too, kept a watchful eye on her children, barking loudly if they went too far. The five fluffy puppies were scarcely aware of their two mothers, though. They burrowed their noses as deep as they could into the soil, lost in something close to ecstasy.
Finally when Nelson looked up, he saw the beds of flowers flanking the garden. He gingerly approached them, unsure of what they were. But when their scents drifted down toward him, he knew that these strange objects could not be harmful to him. There were red roses and yellow roses, agapanthus and daffodils, lilies and African violets. As he sniffed them, he slowed down, entranced, closed his eyes, and let the sun shine down on him. Many years later when Nelson found himself in broken city streets surrounded by concrete, he would still distantly remember this garden, and his first encounter with flowers, and it would revive him almost magically, at least for a short time.
Mrs. Anderson disappeared for a few minutes, and when she returned, another dog, about the same size as Lola, was with her. Nelson did not know he was meeting his father, King, the beagle, a dog with an emphatic gait. Nelson sensed the strength and nobility of the larger dog. Lola stayed close to her babies when King arrived, eying him and growling. King himself did not seem terribly interested in Nelson or his siblings that morning, sniffing them briefly, then running off barking at a nearby squirrel. Neither parent seemed to have any recollection of their passionate lovemaking just a few months before. Mrs. Anderson sighed as King ignored his puppies, but she also knew inside that she should have known better than to hope he would take to them.
This was also the day that Mrs. Anderson first fed the pups something other than their mother’s milk. Mrs. Anderson was keeping a close eye on Lola, and her exhaustion from the constant feeding of her pups was easily visible. She had previously preferred to wait until six weeks before giving puppies solid food, but she decided to try giving them some bread and cow’s milk for the first time, so that hopefully Lola would get a chance to rest a little.
Nelson and his siblings did not know what to do with the small bowls of warm milk and old bread broken in pieces that she put down in front of them. Nelson jumped right into the middle of one bowl with a big splash. It felt good. Mrs. Anderson fished him out and cleaned him, and then holding him in her hands tried to teach him how to lick the milk from the bowl. In the days to come, Mrs. Anderson would cut up small pieces of apples and carrots, and she chopped up a boiled egg into pieces o...
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