‘The Lady And The Pet Dog’ by Joyce Carol Oates

The Lady And The Pet Dog by Joyce Carol Oates, 1972

The magic trick:

Using a circular plot to tell and retell the history of a love affair

JCO takes aim at Chekhov in today’s feature. She subverts the straight-line storytelling of the original “Pet Dog,” in favor of something akin to a very slow tornado.

As her protagonist attempts to piece together sanity in the wake of a destructive love affair, we get the gritty play-by-play of the relationship from all angles. The story starts at the end, goes back to the beginning, replays the end, then goes past what we thought was the ending and into an extended coda.

It’s not dissimilar to Oates’s “The Dead,” which we looked at yesterday on the blog. The circular plot disorients the reader and reinforces the helplessness the protagonist feels. But “Pet Dog” pushes that effect one step further than “The Dead” by having Anna herself reference the effect in her thoughts and speech. And that’s quite a story on Oates’s part.

The selection:

She went to him in the hotel room. A familiar room: had they been here before? “Everything is repeating itself. Everything is stuck,” she said. He framed her face in his hands and said that she looked thinner – was she sick? – what was wrong? She shook herself free. He, her lover, looked about the same. There was a small, angry pimple on his neck. He stared at her, eagerly and suspiciously. Did she bring bad news?

“So you love me? You love me?” she asked.

“Why are you so angry?”

“I want to be free of you. The two of us free of each other.”

“That isn’t true – you don’t want that – ”

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