My husband often reads out loud to me before we go to sleep. We most often read children’s classics and more recent middle grade novels because I want something interesting but not so exciting that I can’t go to sleep. We’d just finished a few books by Bruce Coville (if you’re interested in MG fiction at all, you should run outside RIGHT NOW and buy some of his stuff, because he’s fabulous), and after some pondering, for our next read we’d selected The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
Warning: There be spoilers ahead!
My husband began to read, and the book was well written, interesting, and had a sense of humor. But within a few pages it was clear that for his first dramatic incident, the author was going to kill a dog. I told my husband to stop reading because *@*%@*%!!*!! I am so incredibly done with reading about dogs dying.
Here is a list of the dying dogs in fiction I have encountered in the past three years: The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness (I was bawling so hard at this one that my husband got worried); a story in Paolo Bacigalupi’s Pump Six; The Big Splash by George Galuschak; “I Can’t Imagine” by Sandra Wickham; and Mama, We Are Zenya, Your Son, by Tom Crosshill. At Taos Toolbox, Nancy Kress told us about her novel Dogs (which I refuse to ever read) and Eric Kelley threatened to kill off the police dog in one of his novels-in-progress. In Working Stiff by Rachel Caine, the dog is threatened, and in Robert Sawyer’s Mindscan, the dog is unable to recognize its master in his new robot body (which completely broke my heart). And these are just the examples I can think of off the top of my head.
Seriously, writers, WE GET IT. Killing off the dog (or pretending you might) is very, very sad. It reliably makes me cry even if I don’t like your story very much otherwise. And it also shows up the bizarreness of human behavior, that we cry when an animal dies and not when a person dies (although to be fair, I often cry when writers kill off people, too…but never for the bad guy, which says something else interesting). So could you please stop now?
Also, do you ever notice how writers don’t seem to kill off cats? (Not that I have anything against cats.) Why all the dog hatred, writers, huh? Why not pick on those of the feline persuasion for a change? Why do you want to violently dispose of sweet little bundles of fur like this?
I’ll admit, the “pick on the cute and loyal dog” thing used to be shocking. But now, it just makes me feel tired. It makes me want to stop reading. It has nothing to do with the merits of the work (if you’re not as sick of dead dogs as I am, you’ll want to check out everything I referenced above). But it’s become even more unpleasant to me than werewolf tropes, and you know, that’s saying something.
So please, the next time you consider killing off the poor innocent puppy to pull some heartstrings, back away slowly. Maybe you can kill off the bratty kid sister or the brooding and boring boyfriend instead. Or, I don’t know, have your protagonist lose a finger or something. Just enough with the dogs.
I’ll be in Detroit this weekend for Epic ConFusion. Say hi to me if you’re there!