This is a harrowing tale of alcoholism, combined with the poignant attachment of a man and his dog, a relationship that alters the course of his history. When Thomas Healy, a Glasgow writer, follows his impulse to take home a Doberman puppy, he begins an association that will enrich his troubled life in unexpected ways.
Healy is trapped in a downward-spiraling life, a victim of his own worst instincts, unable to break free from the urge to wallow in the oblivion of drunkenness. It is many years before Healy is unburdened of his alcoholism and the diminishment of his soul, years of spiritual struggle and the insensible desire for drink.
Thomas is a drifter, unable to work at his former job, prone to wasting his days in alcoholic oblivion, sporadically sober, but never long enough to escape his demons or his sorrow. Unexpectedly, the dog, Martin, injects an unfamiliar element into the lonely Healyís days, planting a seed that blooms over time and turmoil, until he is released from the bondage of his addiction.
Although neither Healy nor his mother consider themselves particularly religious, they enjoy the rituals of Catholicism and their midnight Masses on Christmas Eve, year after year. Living with his mother, Thomas is able to pursue his vices and keep Martin safe, although given to dangerous forays that take a toll on both the man and the dog.
Yet the roots of Catholicism are in his bones, his DNA, religion part of the social fabric of their lives, the midnight masses, the prayers they recite, the novenas he starts but never seems able to complete. The years pass, leaving their mark on Healyís shredded psyche, faithful Martin ever at his side, best and only friend.
Life is very bleak for Healy after his mother suffers a debilitating stroke, never fully recovering, diminishing before the loving eyes of Thomas and his sister. Yet Martin remains at his masterís side, a comfort against the devastating pain to come. Soon after she is sent to the hospital, Healy notices how badly the faithful Martin is failing. The loss of both is almost more than the bereaved man can bear.
Thomas unravels, the drink taking him nearer the precipice of no return, buoyed only through the darkest of nights by the memory of Martin and thoughts of his mother. After years of degradation, Thomas finds his way home, rediscovering his spiritual connections. Healy describes his painful journey in blunt, honest prose, embracing every aspect of his tempestuous life, his affections and his flaws, confronting finally the brittle hubris that every alcoholic must face.