Summary of “Puppy” by George Saunders, Part 1: Elise
Marie is the mother of two kids, Abbie and Josh. She treats them with love, possibly so much so that they’re spoiled- not that she’ll admit it. With a “Family Plan” in mind, she packs her two kids into her car. While driving past cornfields that remind her of a mythical “haunted house,” she thinks about her children and all she’s done for them and, more importantly, how she’s a much better and cheerier mother than her own mom was. She’s going to pick up a puppy for the kids, to teach them responsibility.
Meanwhile, Callie awaits their arrival while priding herself on the care of her child, Bo. Bo is a hyper child whose medication makes him cranky, so she’s fixed him up in the backyard so that he won’t escape and get himself killed. She assures herself that she’ll let him run free when he gets older.
Summary Part 2
The narrator remembers a time when Bo didn’t take his medication. It leads her to think about how she didn’t need to put too much focus on Bo. It gave the narrator/mom the opportunity to think more about the puppy. She talks about where the puppy came from and how the kids are taking care it, compared to all the other pets. She also, while thinking about the puppy, had to think about getting rid of the puppy. Then, the memory jumps to when Abbie saw the puppy and wanted it. Abbie tried to get her mom to agree to keeping the puppy. Then, the memory shifts to the mom talking about something that happened in her mother’s closet. The memory was forced to the front of her mind after seeing a boy running down the street.
Marie decides to not buy the puppy from Callie, the woman who has it, after finding her house in such a state of disarray and seeing who I assume is Callie’s deranged son, Bo, tied up in the yard. Abbie is upset because she had really wanted the dog, but Josh knows why they aren’t taking it, after seeing Bo as well, and says something to Abbie to calm her down. Callie tries to convince them to take the dog, but Marie refuses, not wanting to be part of the situation. She longs to tell Bo with a look that his life may not always be like this, it can become wonderful, just like hers had. But she dismisses this thought, thinking it nonsense that people share words through looks, and what isn’t nonsense would be to call someone in Child Welfare who would come and take Bo away from Callie.
Summary Part 3
The point of view changes and Callie calls out to Bo that she will be back soon and disappears into the cornfield. She sets the puppy down in the middle of the cornfield, and leaves it there to die, so that Jimmy, who I assume is her partner, won’t have to kill it, which upsets him and the children. She decides to tell Jimmy that Marie had bought the puppy and give him money of her own to trick him into believing it. She refuses to think of the dog on her walk home, and instead thinks about how her life will be when things become easier moneywise. She wants to go to school and buy decent shoes, so she can become slimmer, even though she knows she’ll never be completely skinny. Which to Callie is fine because Jimmy likes her the way that she is, and she feels the same about him. Which to Callie is what love is. Loving someone for the way they are and helping them improve. Like with Bo, who Callie loves, despite his lesser qualities.
I find this story to be effective and fun to read due to a large amount of sensory details and scene, as well as how both mothers show their love to their children – they do say- or rather think- this outright, but it is first described very well with the actions and decisions Marie and Callie make.
The story is divided into four parts- the first is Marie’s point of view, the second is Callie’s, and then it repeats again after they meet. Marie is a mother trying to do for her kids what her mother never did to her. She uses the cornfields she drives past as a base for “fond” memories as she thinks back to how she bought a game for her son and stayed up all night reading the manual so that she could better talk to him, and how they got all these different pets for the kids. And she compares this to how her mom left her in a blizzard for two hours, and how she locked her in a closet “while entertaining a literal ditchdigger in the parlor” (Saunders, 3).
Meanwhile, Callie has a different experience with her own kid, Bo. She clearly loves him very much, despite his hyperactivity (possibly ADHD, though the story doesn’t specify so it’s hard to tell). But she keeps him locked up in the backyard, tethered to a tree. However, she doesn’t seem to do this because she “hates” him. She truly believes that this is for his own good.
This idea of making this person’s villainous act something that could be argued to be done out of love is something I wish to learn to incorporate into my stories. You know what she’s doing is wrong, but, at the same time, you know she loves her son. She doesn’t make him take his medication, because
The meds made him grind his teeth and his fist would suddenly pound down. He’d broken plates that way, and once a glass tabletop and got four stitches in his wrist (Saunders, 4-5).
She doesn’t want her son angry all the time, she doesn’t want him to get hurt. And she does give him the medicine when he needs it. She’s just certain that he doesn’t need it today.
One may argue that she needs some sort of medication just as much as Bo; she’s not being rational. But either way, there’s a sort of ambiguity about her. You don’t exactly chastise Marie for calling CPS, but you know that Callie doesn’t feel the same way about her son as Marie’s mother did about her. Or perhaps, Marie’s mother loved her just as much, and we simply don’t see that because we’re seeing Marie’s side of the story. Perhaps, if we were given Bo’s perspective, we would feel the same about Callie. “When I was little,” Bo would say, “my mom chained me to a tree in the backyard.” And we would pity him and despise his mother. Perhaps this whole story is simply a view on perspective, and how children view their parents in a different light than how parents view themselves.
To connect this to a personal matter, I despise my mom. She always talked about how I was so smart and talented- and she still does. But I don’t believe her anymore, because deep down, I say “well, if I was so smart and great and you loved me so much, why didn’t you care enough to feed us and not let us get lost on the edge of town?” And I know that this isn’t fair. I don’t know much about my mom- I didn’t learn until recently that she was on medication for some sort of mental disorder (and I don’t even know what it is, because how do you ask your mom about her mental health?) even before moving in with my dad. And I guess it isn’t really her fault.
But I bet she tells the story much differently anyways. She already tells me that I don’t know what happened. Once we had to eat graham crackers for dinner. We always had to make our own dinner, and I think we were out of macaroni and cheese. And I mentioned this at some point to her or my stepmom or somebody. And my mom told me that she let us eat crackers for dinner because she thought it was cute.
And of course, that’s bull, but the whole purpose of this was to provide an example. I remember that time in my life much differently than my mother does. But it doesn’t matter, because everything’s already over. She has two more kids, she never bothers to visit, and I only see her when we happen to visit her mother’s house.
- How does Marie relate the child chained to the tree to her own experiences as a child? Do you think she saw her own mother in Callie?
- Is Callie truly a bad guy, or does she love her son, and simply not know what to do for him?
The conflict of the story was giving the puppy away. The narrator didn’t know if the person she was giving the puppy away to would even come. And with that she also didn’t know if she even wanted to give the puppy away. Hence why the line
Now all she had to worry about was the pup.
This line first introduces the story’s conflict. The children all want to keep the puppy. One of the children specifically says that she would care for the puppy completely.
The setting of the story was constantly changing because she kept thinking of her memories and previous experiences. The main setting of the story was the cornfield, where the mother was remembering each and everything.
The story kept me interested to see what would happen next by continuously switching from memory to memory. I, as a reader, was incredibly curious to see where the story would go next. What was going to happen to the puppy?
I did get very confused about the story at a lot of times because of the jumps in time, but as a whole, I enjoyed that the story was constantly trying to keep you interested by leaping around. It completely depends on the reader and their interpretation.
One important key note about the story that I might take into my own writing is the series of flashbacks. “PUPPY” had a lot of memories that were placed into the story in a way that they formed the story. The story also is mainly the thoughts of the mother/narrator. Their thoughts and memories are what form the story and what form the plot. Her fears of getting rid of the puppy make it so that the reader has something to be interested in. Less complicated plots or incidents makes the story more relatable and less like a soap opera.
Why would the writer choose to make the majority of the story entirely flashbacks?
What are some ways that this piece can relate to the average person?
Do you think the writer expressed the point they wanted to express in this story?
Emma H’s Analysis
What I can learn from this story about writing and how to write my own stories is how to incorporate memories and flashbacks into a story, so they fit into the plot properly and relevantly in a way that furthers the storyline and helps the reader understand the stories characters better. In the story Puppy, the mother Marie talks constantly about her children, and about her family life. She believes that she isn’t spoiling her children but instead loving them, as she had never been loved. She relates experience that she has had with her family and ones that she had with her parents and you can very easily see why she protects and loves her children the way she does. You understand her pain and shock at seeing that child tied up in the yard and feel her being launched into her own childhood, where she too had been locked up and neglected. So, while you can understand the reason that the Author had included these memories of her childhood, memories can become deeper things, more than just background for a character. Without the memories in the story Puppy, the reader would just assume that Marie had been disturbed at the state of Callie’s home and Bo, who is tied up in the yard. Readers could have been confused as to why Callie left it in the cornfield to die and why Marie didn’t take the dog in the first place, for isn’t our instinctual reaction to something small and defenseless in a toxic situation to immediately take it away from that place? With these memories, one understands why Marie “was not going to contribute to a situation like this in even the smallest way.” The dog would have reminded her of her past home life, of a time when she was incredibly unhappy. And Callie had to leave the dog out in the cornfield to die or else her partner Jimmy would have to drown it, something that brings him great displeasure, because the animal was an extra that they didn’t need. Memories are better way to introduce information without just putting it out there for the reader find, no work involved. This way the text doesn’t become dull to the person reading.
As for plot, I learned that it’s alright to not always have a happy ending. In almost every story you read there’s some sort of conflict or sadness sprinkled in, but most stories end on a happy or at least optimistic note. Good plot should always have some sort of tragedy, but rarely do stories end with it. Callie must leave the puppy to die, Abbie doesn’t get the dog she wanted, Marie is still haunted by her past, and Bo is still chained up in the yard. It’s important that we as Authors realize tragedy in our stories because it’s just as, if not more present in our society, but isn’t as recognized.
How can an author use memories to further a story?
Do you think what Callie did was justifyed?