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My Dog’s Criticisms of My Novel

Floyd and his best friend

Travis, being thoughtful

Travis, Floyd's 117- pound Great Pyrenees

Travis is six years old. He's a
Great Pyrenees. He weighs
117 pounds and stands about
30 inches at the shoulder. He photographs better than I do.

The first two photos were taken by my sister, ceramic sculptor Bonnie Kemske.

The last one was taken by our friend Annie, who is a dog lover
and a first-rate photographer
.

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by Floyd Kemske

I had made up my mind not to let my dog read my novel. I don’t think it’s a good idea to visit your fiction on friends and relatives, but he was feeling sick. When he gets in this condition, there is nothing you can do but take up the oriental rug and cover the floor with papers. It was days later, after he was feeling better, that I learned he had read it. He remarked about it during walkies.


“It was better than the newspaper you usually put down for me,” he said.


“Heel,” I said. “I suppose now you’re going to criticize it.”


“It’s not in my nature to be critical.” He wagged his tail as if to emphasize the point. I hate it when he tries to be ingratiating.


“But?”


He stopped at a gnarled oak tree and spent several minutes sniffing the entire circumference of it.


“Are you going to walk or sniff?” I snapped his lead and walked on. He had to trot quickly to catch up.


“Don’t be angry,” he said. “You’re the one who gave it to me.”


“I did not give it to you,” I said. “You found it when I spread it on the floor. If there had been any newspapers around, you wouldn’t have seen it. It was an accident.”


“There’s no such thing as an accident.” He stopped suddenly, pulling me up short, and lifted his leg on a telephone pole.


“Oh yeah? Why do you think I needed papers in the first place?” I said.


He didn’t answer, of course. He never does when the discussion gets that personal.


“All right,” I said. “Out with it. What do you want to say about my novel?”


“I think it’s thematically lightweight,” he said, putting his leg down and hurrying on ahead of me.


“Heel,” I said, trying to disguise the irritation in my voice.


“Have you thought about what you want to accomplish with it?” he said as I caught up.


I wanted to say something about how he’d never written anything in his life, but I could see by the look in his eye that he had a comeback prepared for that one. I decided not to give him the satisfaction.


He stopped at a spot on the sidewalk to sniff at nothing in particular. I counted to ten and did relaxation exercises, hoping he wouldn’t notice I was doing it. After a moment, he seemed satisfied with the information he had gathered, and we continued.


“Your characters’ motivations don’t ring true,” he said, stopping to investigate a small pile of dead leaves. “The description of Linda’s anxiety attack was stagey and affected. Nobody has that kind of reaction to missing a car payment, anyway.”


I was devastated. If you don’t buy Linda’s anxiety attack, then the rest of it just collapses, up to and including Arthur’s final decision to quit his job and take a pepperoni pizza to Linda’s condo.


“You’ve never had the experience of missing a car payment,” I pointed out.


“I’ve never had the experience of losing a leg to a whale, either,” he retorted. It’s not the first time he’s stifled discussion with allusions to Melville. Apparently there was some unmentionable substance in the pile of leaves, because he rolled in it for a while. But I wasn’t to be put off. However uncomfortable it made me, I had to know.


“Is there anything else?” I said when he was finished rolling around.


“The autistic girl is a red herring.” He shook himself ecstatically, and we walked on. “She’s like a gun that’s never fired.”


Sooner or later, he always comes around to Chekhov.


“I just needed her to get Arthur’s resignation letter into the boss’s hands,” I protested. “She’s not a major character at all.”


“The timing of her appearance implies a major role,” he said. “If you set up reader expectations, you have a responsibility to meet them.”


“Heel,” I said.


He made a lunge for a passing squirrel and nearly yanked me off my feet.


“Life doesn’t meet your expectations,” I said when I had regained my balance. “Why should I?” The squirrel got away easily. I was too much of a drag on the other end of the leash.


“Well, excuse me,” he said. “I guess some of us have license to suspend aesthetic law.” My dog tries to act liberal-minded, but he’s really quite authoritarian in his outlook.


“I think you’re confusing lightweight with subtle,” I said. “And, furthermore, I don’t know why I should tolerate this kind of criticism from somebody who thinks that chasing cats is a metaphysical experience.”


By that time, we were home again. I opened the gate and, after we went inside, I unhooked him from his leash. He ran over and retrieved his frisbee, which was lying in the yard. He brought it back and handed it to me.


“I’m only telling you these things because I’m your best friend,” he said.


“I appreciate that,” I said. And I threw his frisbee over the fence.

My dog has a lot of opinions. Here is his trade policy.

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