Raising Rufus: A Maine Love Story by Carla Maria Verdino-Sullwold is about a couple in their sixties who choose to leave their hectic lives behind in New York to live in their dream retirement home in Maine along the coast. Gus and Maria Sundergaard have survived forty years of marriage and their relationship has been full of love and devotion. However, Gus has kept a couple of secrets that cause discord in the relationship and Maria senses that there are issues but is fearful to push for answers. To complicate matters, Gus struggles with depression, which frightens Maria.
The couple never had children and when they settle into their new home in Maine they adopt Rufus, a Newfoundland puppy that is boisterous and full of love. Once they learn that Rufus loves the ocean the couple decides to train Rufus to become a water rescue dog. The raising and training of Rufus brings the couple closer to each other. Not only do they start to air out their problems, but their love for each other is reinforced. People who have been in a relationship will be able to relate too many of the couple’s issues. Marriage is not always easy, but Gus and Maria’s story shows just how rewarding a relationship can be as long as both people are willing to work at it.
The writer’s use of flashbacks helps aid the reader to understand the complexities of the couple’s relationship. And as you read more about the couple’s past you begin to understand how they reached the point they are at and the motivations for the move to Maine and the adoption of Rufus.
Verdino-Sullwold wrote this touching novel after her husband of forty years died suddenly. If you have ever suffered the loss of your soul mate and best friend, this story will touch your heart. And many readers will fall in love with the adorable Rufus.
As I read the novel, I realized that the author has a love for the English language. I suggest having a dictionary close by. This is not to say that her writing is pretentious. In fact, her writing is beautiful and poetic at times. As I read the first sentence, “A ribbon of undulating cerulean divides sky and land” I thought I was in for a tough read. Instead I fell in love with her descriptions of Maine and I pictured myself frolicking on the beach with the couple and Rufus. For those who have been to Maine, this tale will make you miss the landscape. And for those who have never been, you’ll want to visit by the time you finish the novel.
The novel is only 134 pages long, so instead of being immersed in Gus and Maria’s story you are given glimpses into their lives. At times I wanted to know more and to feel more. However, given that this novel was written soon after Verdino-Sullwold husband’s death, giving more might have been too painful. This begs the question, will the author explore this subject again. If she does, I would love to read it. I give the book four out of five stars.