Dog Heaven by Stephanie Vaughn, 1989
The magic trick:
The ‘party’ scene near the end
No shame in admitting I was welling up with tears just a little by the end of this one. It’s really just one of those amazing stories you read every so often.
The scene that really got me was the foursome sitting shoulder to shoulder eating chocolate – Gemma, MacArthur, Sparky and of course Duke the dog. We already cared as readers for Sparky and Duke, thanks to a couple of endearing anecdotes earlier in the story. And when they both come bounding through the snowstorm to say goodbye, well, our hearts have officially melted. Few stories have a moment like that where the arc totally suspends. The “party” happens almost in its own universe of purity, after the the narrative has ceased moving and before the epilogue ties up the loose ends. It is a pristine moment of childhood perfection.
Vaughtn gives us one of those extremely rare moments of extreme heartstring pulling that never feels overwrought. Like Dickens at his best. The story’s coda then only goes to make the scene all the more poignant. And that’s quite a trick on Vaughn’s part.
We had a party. We sat on the front steps of our quarters, Sparky, MacArthur, the dog, and I, and we ate all the chocolates at eight o’clock in the morning. We sat shoulder to shoulder, the four of us, and looked across the street through the trees at the river, and we talked about what we might be doing a year from then. Finally, we finished the chocolates and stopped talking and allowed the brilliant light of that morning to enter us.