Puppy by George Saunders, 2007
The magic trick:
Judging the notion of judging
Maybe in the future when some idiot with a short story blog is writing about a story that presents the action from different characters’ points of view in order to provide a comparison of their lives, said idiot blogger will term the magic trick, “Saunders-esque.” That would probably be annoying. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
In the meantime, this idiot short story blogger is going to coin the term. Saunders-esque. He’s really into writing stories with that trick in place – the whole switching perspectives to compare characters. And why shouldn’t he? It’s a pretty damn sweet trick.
The effect in “Puppy” is to judge the very notion of judging. But wait, isn’t that what Flannery O’Connor does so well? Is this Flannery-esque. All this coining of terms is getting a little tiring, so let’s just focus on the story at hand and say that the jump in perspective from the rich puppy buyer to the poor puppy seller is as jarring as it is effective. It also goes a long way toward making the same point “Semplica Girl Diaries” does: suburban happiness, even though it often seems harmlessly ubiquitous in this country, comes at a cost. For every action, there is a reaction. But don’t get too judgmental about it, because as this story reminds us – in a very Saunders-esque, Flannery-esque way – there’s always someone else ready to judge you for something. And that’s quite a trick on Saunders’s part.
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 dragging its rear over the pile of clothing in the corner, in a sitting position, splay-legged, a 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-remodelled McDonald’s, as long as they just please please kept their hands out of their mouths, and God forbid they should rub their eyes.