‘Dog Heaven’ by Stephanie Vaughn

If you want to get American fiction writers of a certain age talking, mention this story, which begins, “Every so often that dead dog dreams me up again.” It’s about some army brats at Fort Niagara in Upstate New York, but it’s about life and death and failing to fit in. It has one of the most beautiful ending of any story I know, and one of the best dog characters in all of literature. Like many stories on this list I read it in those days in which I examined every story as though it were a writing manual. I was stymied every time. How did they do it? Eventually I realized that if I could figure that out, the story was no good. ‘Dog Heaven’ is so lovely a story – why hasn’t Vaughn published any more books since Sweet Talk in 1990? – that I don’t want to describe it. I want, instead, to sneak into your house and read it to you, standing a little too closely, so you can feel my hot breath in your ear.

First published in The New Yorker, January 1, 1989, and available to subscribers to read here; collected in Sweet Talk, Random House, 1990

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