“Puppy” by George Saunders c. 2013 (pages 31-43 in Tenth of December)

Marie, a mother with a painful past, tries to adopt puppies from a sketchy household. Throughout the story, Marie contrasts her experience as a child with the experiences that she bestows upon her own children, a juxtaposition that adds depth to the piece.

Sentences Worth Studying

  • “Twice already Marie had pointed out the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect field of corn, because the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect field of corn put her in mind of a haunted house—not a haunted house she had ever actually seen but the mythical one that sometimes appeared in her mind (with adjacent graveyard and cat on a fence) whenever she saw the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect etc., etc.,—and she wanted to make sure that, if the kids had a corresponding mythical haunted house that appeared in their minds whenever they saw the brilliance of the etc., etc., it would come up now, so that they could all experience it together, like friends, like college friends on a road trip, sans pot, ha ha ha!” (31).
  • “Speaking of Halloween, she remembered last year, when their cornstalk column had tipped their shopping cart over. Gosh, how they’d laughed at that! Oh, family laughter was golden; she’d had none of that in her childhood, Dad being so dour and Mom so ashamed” (32).
  • “So her mother could go right ahead and claim that she was spoiling the kids. These were not spoiled kids. These were well-loved kids. At least she’d never left one of them standing in a blizzard for two hours after a junior-high dance. At least she’d never drunkenly snapped at one of them, ‘I hardly consider you college material.’ At least she’d never locked one of them in a closet (a closet!) while entertaining a literal ditchdigger in the parlor” (34).
  • “But if no one took the pup he’d do it. He’d have to. Because his feeling was, when you said you were going to do a thing and didn’t do it, that was how kids got into drugs” (36).
  • “Well, wow, what a super field trip for the kids, Marie thought, ha ha (the filth, the mildew smell, the dry aquarium holding the single encyclopedia volume, the pasta pot on the bookshelf with an inflatable candy cane inexplicably sticking out of it), and although some might have been disgusted (by the spare tire on the dining-room table, by the way the glum mother dog, the presumed in-house pooper, was now digging her rear over the pile of clothing in the corner, in a sitting position, splay-legged, moronic look of pleasure on her face), Marie realized (resisting the urge to rush to the sink and wash her hands, in part because the sink had a basketball in it) that what this really was, was deeply sad. / Please do not touch anything, please do not touch, she said to Josh and Abbie, but just in her head, wanting to give the children a chance to observe her being democratic and accepting, and afterward they could all wash up at the half-remodeled McDonald’s as long as they just please please kept their hands out of their mouths, and God forbid they should rub their eyes” (38-39).
  • “He rose to a sitting position, railed against the chain, whipped it back and forth, crawled to a bowl of water, and, lifting it to his lips, took a drink: a drink from a dog’s bowl. / Josh joined her at the window. / She let him look. / He should know that the world was not all lessons and iguanas and Nintendo. It was also this muddy simple boy tethered like an animal” (40).
  • “The boy came to the fence. If only she could say to him, with a single look, Life will not necessarily always be like this. Your life could suddenly blossom into something wonderful. It can happen. It happened to me. / But secret looks, looks that conveyed a world of meaning with the subtle blah blah blah—that was all bullshit. What was not bullshit was a call to Child Welfare, where she knew Linda Berling, a very no-nonsense lady who would snatch this poor kid away so fast it would make that fat mother’s thick head spin” (41).
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About Kelsey Maki

writer and English professor
This entry was posted in book, fiction, sentences, short story, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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