The Doggie Surprise in "Pending Vegan"

Catching up on the fiction in The New Yorker, and so just read Jonathan Lethem's story from April 7, "Pending Vegan." Have I read any of his novels before? I have a vision in my head that he has a book with fat stars on the cover or am worried that he might be the guy who wrote Incredibly Loud and Too Close, or whatever that title is for the book about people trapped in elevators (I am joking, of course! I know that it's about 911. I have zero interest in reading it, even though it might change my life. I feel weirdly resistant to reading books from a kid's point of view, as I think it's really hard to do well without sounding saccharine. There are exceptions, like Mark Haddon and Ian McEwan in Atonement and Dorothy Allison, but get off my back, will you?).

Okay, I just Googled him and he's written nothing else that I've ever read, though he is a prolific and successful writer.

This story is about an anxious taking his twin girls to Sea World. The first line is great, "Paul Esperth, who was no longer taking the antidepressant Celexa, braced himself for a cataclysm at Sea World"  And then there are many, many other lines to love in the story, surprising descriptions that make me feel like I'm not trying hard enough in my writing, such as "...his wife had performed judo on his argument..."  and the perfect description of orcas."The killer whales, with their Emmett Kelly eyes, were God's glorious lethal clowns. Like panda bears redesigned by Albert Speer."  His wife is barely looks at him, and there's this resentment between them that's grown since the birth of the kids, a small part of it hinging on his having gotten rid of a rescued Jack Russell terrier when his wife was pregnant. And then, they go to this pet show at Sea World, which is filled with shelter rescue dogs and cats, and lo and behold, when a terrier enters the stage, it sees him and leaps over the enclosure to sit on his stomach, licking his face. It's their dog from years before, and they are reunited. Or is it the same dog? It's kind of an unpleasant ending, and if it were a story in workshop, I would probably critique the coincidence factor or the plausibility of this happening. And then I get preoccupied as a reader wondering if they will actually be able to take the dog home or not, since they can't at all prove that they used to own it.

But then this is the second story in a row from the magazine where unexpected and not character driven things happen at the climax of the story. I have to think more about how that works--it would be nice if I didn't always feel like the action of the story, the unfolding of the plot, has to hinge on the character at every second. I was working on a story yesterday and things started to happen just because I was putting in the time, but my endings are typically pretty small and non-explosive---someone stealing a picture of Jesus or turning herself in to the retirement community or whatever--they are never about some sudden twist or reveal in the story. Maybe I will try to do that for this other story I have about  a woman dating a guy in a wheelchair. Just have to figure out how to have the ending seem inevitable in some weay.

New Yorker, I love you. Again they have the inside scoop from the writer, explaining the behind the scenes mechanics of the story,

Here's a quote from the interview that makes me instantly label Lethem a sweetheart: "My parents bred Siamese cats for a while, and in a lot of baby pictures I’m seen swimming in a mass of kittens..." And," As in the case of my character, dogs are a problem I can’t solve; they throw me back into the question of self and other. For a writer, that’s good. Writing a story about a cat would be like writing a story about my arm or my ear."

Here is an interview with Lethem in The Paris Review from 2003 where he talks about writing.

Comments

Popular Posts