July 21, 2013


"Puppy" by George Saunders alternates between the perspectives of two women, Marie and Callie. It's a simple story structure. The story's divided into four equal sized portions. Marie and Callie both get two. I guess each of these portions can be called a vignette. Saunders provides one informative scene from each woman's life before allowing the women to interact.

Each scene is told in the third person and feels like its coming from the character's mind. The first scene focuses on Marie, a mother of two children who has some problems but still lives a pretty good life. Her son Josh is prone to violent outburst but has mellowed out since playing a video game called Italian Loaves. This game simulates the life of a baker who must prepare his bread while avoiding the onslaught of animals such as wolves with distended stomachs and birds that drop rocks. Josh plays this game nonstop and it has mellowed him out. Marie is in control of her life and appears to be happy. The context of her life is strange but things seem to be going okay for her family. Marie has a fascination with bringing home strange things which is what leads her to contact Callie to purchase her dog.

Like Marie, Callie is a mother of a strange child. Callie's son has a habit of darting between cars on the interstate. Callie fears for her son's safety so she makes his take medication, but it makes him grind his teeth and lose control of his body. Like Marie, Callie has a plethora of problems but she is tough and appears to be relatively happy.
Callie and Marie are similar but have different lifestyles. Marie loves bringing home new animals to surprise her husband while Callie has too many animals.

Consequently, Callie's husband feels a need to kill the various animals because he grew up on a farm and understands the reality that the best way to get rid of animals is to kill them. This is what motivates Callie to post an ad in the paper to sell her dog ergo her husband won't have to kill it. For Callie, a lot depends on whether or not Marie buys her dog. 

So Marie arrives at Callie's house and intends to purchase the dog. Everything is going smoothly until Marie looks out the window and sees Bo, Callie's son, chained to a tree. It's the funniest moment of the story. After seeing this boy chained to a tree, Marie assumes that this is child abuse. She flashbacks to her own painful upbringing and changes her mind about buying the dog. Little does she know that this boy is chained up for his own good. Its possible that this chain is keeping the boy alive but Marie sees it in a different light.

Both women love their children but experience love in a different way. Marie can manipulate her son's behavior by getting him a video game but Callie's situation is more difficult. Bo is a danger to himself when given free roam outdoors but hates being kept indoors. Callie's solution is to chain him to a tree. This is how love exists in Callie's world. Loving those around you for who they are and trying to make them realize their full potential. I believe this is the ultimate message of Saunders' "Puppy". 

Random boy chained to a tree.


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  1. Just FYI, the game was called "Noble Baker," not "Italian Loaves."
    "Italian Loaves" was the name of the extension pack.

  2. Just FYI, it's not "extension pack", it's "expansion pak."

  3. its expansion pak in the story but expansion pack is actually the correct term.

    1. woah guys. lets all just calm down. lets not do anything we'll regret later.

    2. I agree, things are getting a bit heated in this comment thread.

  4. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  5. Haha, 6 years later I read this. Great interpretation, I agree with most of your take on Puppy, nice work.