“Puppy”: George Saunders Summary

“Puppy” is a short story by George Saunders first published in 2007 and appearing in his 2013 collection Tenth of December: Stories. You can get the audiobook free with an audible trial. It’s about two women from different economic classes, one looking to buy a puppy and the other selling, and the contrast between their lives. Here’s a summary of “Puppy”.

“Puppy” Summary

Marie is driving with her two kids, Abbie and Josh, by a cornfield. She remarks on it several times but the kids are unimpressed. It makes her think of a haunted house. Josh is focused on playing his hand-held video game.

Marie loves laughter in the family. Her own upbringing was dour. Her husband, Robert, is upbeat and playful. He doesn’t mind all the animals Marie brings home. They’re on a Family Mission right now to pick up a puppy. She’s sure the kids will look after this one.

Marie thinks the video game is helping Josh. He swats at her affectionately when she speaks to him; they laughed yesterday when he knocked her glasses off.

Marie’s kids are well-loved, not spoiled as her mother thinks. They don’t get forgotten or insulted like she was. Marie thanks the Lord for her struggles, strength and grace.

Summary of "Puppy" by George Saunders
“Puppy”: George Saunders Summary

Callie looks through the blind into the backyard at her son Bo, who’s throwing rocks at a tree. She’s fixed it up perfect. A kid can find plenty to do in a yard—it’s a whole world. Bo has wandered off more than once, even across the I-90. Her doctor said she needed to get it under control.

The meds had side-effects, so he’s not on them right now. He doesn’t need them because she’s fixed it perfect.

She’s waiting for a lady to come by about the puppy. She wants to get rid of it so Jimmy doesn’t have to kill it, like the kittens. The kids—Brianna, Jessi and Bo—got real worked up about that. But Jimmy grew up on a farm, or close to one, so he knows these things have to be done.

Getting the pup sold and not aggravating Jimmy will give them some quality time tonight to make plans; maybe he’ll even be vulnerable with her.

The lady pulls up in a nice car.

Marie is saddened by Callie’s place. It’s dirty and disorganized. Callie picks up several dog turds from the carpet. The phone rings and she goes to answer it, placing the paper towel-wrapped turds on the counter. Marie hopes the kids won’t touch anything.

They love the cute puppy and want it. Marie has fun with the thought of the puppy’s white-trash background. Curious, Marie looks through the blinds into the backyard. She’s shocked to see a boy a little younger than Josh chained to a tree. He travels the length of the restraint and then drinks from a dog bowl. She let’s Josh look to show him another side of the world.

Marie thinks of some unpleasant memories from her childhood. If only an outsider had set her mother straight. Callie returns to close the deal. Marie says they won’t be taking the puppy after all; they can’t properly take care of it. She tries to get her to take it for free.

Outside, the boy comes to the fence as they leave. Marie wants to say something encouraging, but doesn’t. She’s going to call Child Welfare. They drive off.

“Puppy” Summary, Cont’d

Callie takes the puppy and walks into the cornfield. She leaves it there. This way, Jimmy won’t have to deal with it. He has enough stress. She’ll give him some money she has hidden away and say people bought the puppy. She reminds herself not to look back as she walks away.

She’s made bad choices. When they have more money she’ll get nice tennis shoes so she can walk and lose weight. She’ll go to night school, too.

Jimmy likes her as she is and she likes him as he is. She’s helping him now by killing—no, she’s just walking away.

“. . . maybe that’s what love was: liking someone how he was and doing things to help him get even better.”

She’s helping Bo too. He’s not perfect, but he could mellow out as he gets older and have a good life. He sits quietly in the yard, looking at flowers. He waves at her. Yesterday he was cooped up inside and miserable. Today is better because she thought of how to help him. She loves him more than anyone else in the world.

I hope this “Puppy” summary by George Saunders was helpful.