by Floyd Kemske
I had made up my mind not to let my dog read my novel. I dont think its 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 youre going to criticize it.
Its 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.
He stopped at a gnarled oak tree and spent several minutes sniffing the entire circumference
Are you going to walk or sniff? I snapped his lead and walked on. He had to trot
quickly to catch up.
Dont be angry, he said. Youre 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 wouldnt have seen it. It was an accident.
Theres 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 didnt 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 its 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
I wanted to say something about how hed 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 wouldnt notice I was doing it. After
a moment, he seemed satisfied with the information he had gathered, and we continued.
Your characters motivations dont ring true, he said, stopping to investigate
a small pile of dead leaves. The description of Lindas anxiety attack was stagey
and affected. Nobody has that kind of reaction to missing a car payment, anyway.
I was devastated. If you dont buy Lindas anxiety attack, then the rest of it just
collapses, up to and including Arthurs final decision to quit his job and take a
pepperoni pizza to Lindas condo.
Youve never had the experience of missing a car payment, I pointed out.
Ive never had the experience of losing a leg to a whale, either, he retorted.
Its not the first time hes 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 wasnt to be put off. However uncomfortable it made me, I had
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. Shes like a gun thats never fired.
Sooner or later, he always comes around to Chekhov.
I just needed her to get Arthurs resignation letter into the bosss hands, I protested.
Shes 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 doesnt 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 hes really quite authoritarian in
I think youre confusing lightweight with subtle, I said. And, furthermore, I
dont 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.
Im only telling you these things because Im your best friend, he said.
I appreciate that, I said. And I threw his frisbee over the fence.