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Tenth of December
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2014 Book Discussions > Tenth of December - Puppy (May 2014)

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Terry Pearce | 763 comments Discuss anything you like to do with the short story 'Puppy' from 'Tenth of December' here.

How did Saunders made you feel about the different backgrounds and cultures of the characters? There were two 'sides' -- did you feel one was more justified or sympathetic than the other?


Whitney | 2048 comments Mod
I think Saunders’ sympathies are definitely with Callie. Having come from a bad situation herself, Marie uses her position to judge and justify, rather than reflect or show compassion. By choosing not to involve herself in a bad situation, she makes the situation worse for everyone.

At the same time, it’s hard not to see Callie’s situation from Marie’s perspective, which I think is part of the point. It reminds me of Flannery O’Connor, especially the title story of Everything That Rises Must Converge, where characters have ‘right thinking’ attitudes on the surface but fail when it comes to true compassion.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2271 comments Two damaged mothers trying to do right by their kids and both failing dismally. But where are the fathers?

Marie is giving her kids everything because her childhood was so miserable. Her husband just seems to go along.

Callie is giving her son Bo all that she can and it isn't much. Her husband seems to be as overwhelmed as she is.

So what should Marie have done? It seems she is set to call someone at child protective services. How does she know anyone there? Did they help her?

For me, this story just shows that having money does not make you any better of a parent.


Allison Shifman Chartier (shifmanchartier) | 11 comments Both mothers in this story were trying so hard, and were so misjudged by one another. As a mom, I find myself often making an effort to understand other parents' choices - but it's a real effort. It's not something that comes naturally to me, unfortunately. This story touched me and gave me some pause.

Saunders did such a great job getting inside the characters' heads, I felt I really understood how their very questionable choices came from places of equally good intention. For me, it illustrated how sadly difficult it can be for us all to understand and empathize with each other.


Brian | 4 comments I think the fundamental issue here, as others have said, is one of a lack of empathy (I agree with you wholeheartedly Allison!). Callie was in a situation with no good choices due to her family's financial standing. She has a son who clearly has issues but no way to address them, as the medication does not appear to be working and she has few resources to try alternative methods. As a result, she does what she thinks is best by putting her son outside and securing him in such a way that he cannot hurt himself.

But to Marie, it appears to be child abuse. This is readily understandable from her viewpoint - she sees a house that is in disarray and a child locked up in the backyard, in a harness, who drinks from a dog's water dish. Given Marie's upbringing, she jumps to the most obvious conclusion and thinks that she has the opportunity here to help a boy who is being mistreated by his family in the same way she was mistreated by hers. If Marie could have been empathetic, it might have occurred to her to ask questions of Callie to try and determine why the boy was in this situation, but she cannot get beyond her own background.

I don't know if child services will even do anything, honestly. It's cynical, but it feels like in this day and age, it takes a truly horrific situation before child services will intervene. And so perhaps that tragedy will be averted, but the larger problem of Marie being unable to empathize will not be. I truly felt mostly for Callie here, as she seems to be doing the best she can, and so I agree with Whitney that Saunders's sympathy lies with her. But at the same time, I think it would be a very difficult thing for Marie to try and step outside her own experience, especially with her kids there, to ask the questions that would (hopefully) lead to a moment of revelation over her view of Callie.


Whitney | 2048 comments Mod
Brian wrote: "I think it would be a very difficult thing for Marie to try and step outside her own experience, especially with her kids there, to ask the questions that would (hopefully) lead to a moment of revelation over her view of Callie. ..."

I agree. And I really don't think that's where it's implied Marie is failing. Saunder's stories tend to be about the small moments of transcendence in otherwise mean or circumscribed lives. By refusing to engage at all with the situation, i.e. by refusing the puppy, Marie has made multiple lives worse (Callie, her kids, possibly Callie's kid, and especially the puppy's). Just a tad more generosity of spirit on her part, and the world would have been a slightly better place.


message 7: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2456 comments But don't many of us have experiences where we know we have gotten ourselves into a situation over our heads and decide let's just get out of here? I remember a situation in college, meeting the family of a date. Not as nearly as horrific as this situation. But, no way, not for me.


Brian | 4 comments Lily wrote: "But don't many of us have experiences where we know we have gotten ourselves into a situation over our heads and decide let's just get out of here? I remember a situation in college, meeting the f..."

Lily, I don't necessarily think though that it was a situation where Marie had decided that she was over her head. She had determined on the basis of the limited knowledge that she had (unkempt house, bad neighborhood, child in a harness in the backyard) that she needed to punish Callie in an effort to try and make Bo's life easier. This is reflected in her thoughts that she wanted nothing to do with helping this household and that she would call child services.

Whitney, I think you're absolutely right - a small decision by Marie has the possibility to disrupt and injure many lives. If she had stopped for a moment and asked herself if perhaps there were understandable (although distressing) reasons for why Callie's household was the way it was, this could have been a much different story.


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Lily (joy1) | 2456 comments I may be callous and may need to reread the story, but I also saw it as Marie not being able to allow into her life, and her children's lives, a puppy that would continuously remind her of what she had seen. I read the story as more self protective than deliberately punishing -- actually to some extent true, in very different ways, on the part of each woman.


Whitney | 2048 comments Mod
I also think it was self-protective rather than punishing. With a hefty dose of denial of "there but for the grace of God". If anything, Marie definitely excels at denial.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2271 comments Whitney wrote: "I also think it was self-protective rather than punishing. With a hefty dose of denial of "there but for the grace of God". If anything, Marie definitely excels at denial."

Agree completely with your assessment of Marie.


message 12: by Brian (last edited May 11, 2014 01:28PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brian | 4 comments Perhaps I'm the cynical one, but I just can't agree that I saw it as self protective. I saw it much more as deliberately punishing of Marie based on her jumping to a conclusion.

"The cruelty and ignorance just radiated from her fat face, with its little smear of lipstick."

"What was not bullshit was a call to Child Welfare, where she knew Linda Berling, a very no-nonsense lady who would snatch this poor kid away so fast it would make that fat mother's thick head spin."

She also thinks that she won't take the puppy because she does not wish to contribute to Callie's situation. This to me suggests punishment rather than trying to wash away any reminder of what she's seen.

None of that to me suggests self-protecting. On the contrary, it suggests to me self-righteousness and punishment from the limited facts in front of her. I'm not saying this to be judgmental of Marie - I think that given her history and the fact that her children were present, her poor choice is understandable. But I don't see it as motivated by self-protection.


Whitney | 2048 comments Mod
Brian wrote: "Perhaps I'm the cynical one, but I just can't agree that I saw it as self protective. I saw it much more as deliberately punishing of Marie based on her jumping to a conclusion.

"The cruelty and i..."


Hard to argue with the examples you've pulled from the text. You've convinced me - there's definitely a hefty dose of vindictiveness in Marie's motivations. But I'd still argue it grew out of self-protectiveness. She was prepared to adopt the "white trash" puppy and laugh the whole thing off until she saw Bo and her own (quickly repressed) childhood memories started to come back. Her intended punishment of Callie seems to me to be redirected punishment of her own mother. She is now the righteous adult she wished had confronted her mother at the time.


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Lily (joy1) | 2456 comments Do read and comment first, but, when/if ready for them, here are some other comments on "Puppy" from around the Web:

http://everythingbutthefiction.blogsp...

http://www.npr.org/2013/01/15/1694052...

http://litreactor.com/discuss/short-s...


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2271 comments Thanks for the links, Lily. When I read the first one, I was struck by how different my reaction was to the author of that review. I did not find anything funny about the story -- just two damaged women failing their kids.


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