Wednesday, November 3, 2021

"Dog Stories" by Francine Prose, SPECIAL REPORT: FICTION November 1990-January 1991: "Animals" (the issue's theme) edited by Keith Bellows: Short Story Wednesday

Francine Prose's "Dog Stories" is, perhaps after Rick Bass's "Antlers", the-best-known new story to be published in the 11/90 quarterly issue of Special Report: Fiction, one of a set of eight magazines published for several years by Whittle Communications for distribution to doctors' office waiting rooms (the issue, with the theme of non-human animals and our interactions, also reprints a story by Colette). Prose's story was selected by Alice Adams for the 1991 volume of Best American Short Stories (from the set of stories presented to her by series editor Katrina Kenison), the only story from Special Report: Fiction to be so included during the magazine's run. Prose included it in her 1996 collection The Peaceable Kingdom.

Reading it, finally, today, in the oversized pages of the Special Report issue (about as large as Life, Look or The Saturday Evening Post in the late '60s, or American Poetry Review or The New York Review of Books today) with ads and center-page illustrations not atypical of slick magazines, is a bit distracting, particularly with one page of the story's text across from a full-page sort-of house ad touting U.S. doctors generally, with a nearly full-sized woman's face just above that of the infant she's holding, and the headline "Amy Lyn Hollander Is My 734th Child"...a steady diet of books, digest and little magazines might lead one to be used to the occasional illustration or book ad, but relatively few full-color human faces peering intently at the reader from the corner of one's eye. Other occasional fiction magazine projects, designed by typical slick commercial magazine staff, such as Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine from the Family Circle folks half a decade later, can feel very Busy in comparison to their less page-design-heavy colleagues, or even the fiction pages as usually presented in the likes of Harper's, The American Scholar or The New Yorker, or the rare other slick magazine still publishing fiction.

My scanner is not quite working, but I'll hope to have an image up soon of the Special Report: Fiction issue.

It's an unsurprisingly good story, told from the point of view of a woman on her wedding day, marrying a man she's lived with for some time, pregnant with their child and sharing parenting duties with him of her son from a previous relation, the son being of somewhat but not extraordinarily special needs attention. Their house is undergoing some renovation at the time of the wedding, but nonetheless they are holding the ceremony in their house and yard; the groom is one of the designers and builders of the house, and one of the carpenters, the most industrious of them and the most handsome, has been invited, and to add to the generally stress of he situation, the bride to be has recently been bitten by a large dog while attempting to visit a barn sale, to buy a work sink on display there for the painting studio being built into the house. Christine, the bride and a professional painter and former teacher, is slightly surprised by the amount of tension even a relatively informal wedding party is inducing in her.  The story is relatively short, and everything described as happening has her spin on it, hyper-aware, analytical or regretful or nostalgic (or some combination) as they come, including some thoughts of how her recent unfortunate encounter with a stranger and her biting dog differs from her most frequently-told dog anecdote, one about her fiancé's dog Alexander and his passion for a collie in heat he meets one day. It's a story less about earthshattering changes in the lives of the key characters than the realization that all the important parts of their lives have been in place before the wedding and that things are good, if not in several ways ideal. And that the awkwardnesses of social interaction can be endured, even when tiresome, or mixed bags, much as they are during the wedding, while pregnant and beginning to show, and suffering minor post-bite throbbing. 

Please see today's other Short Story Wednesday selections at Patti Abbott's blog

Special Report: Fiction, November 1990-January 1991, no volume nor issue numbers, William S. Rukeyser, editor-in-chief; Keith Bellows, editor; Elise Nakhnikian, managing editor (Whittle Communications, $3.50--though not known ever to be distributed to newsstands), 66pp plus covers, 10.5x14" full-color slick with heavier-grade slick paper covers.

Cover * photo of a mandrill sitting on a stool * James Balog * photo (Survivors: A New Vision of Endangered Wildlife, Abrams 1990) 
1 * Table of Contents * illustrated with a photo of Balog sitting on the stool in the same pose as the mandrill
3 * In This Issue: Every Beast of the Earth * The Editors* ed (illus. photo collage by Luis Beach)
5 * Roundtable: Animal Intuition * Vicki Hearne, Donald McCaig, William Wharton interviewed by Elise Nakhnikian * iv (illus. Daniel Zacroczemski)
11 * Leviathan * Jo Anne Randall * ss (illus. Anthony Russo)
16 * Jo Anne Randall * anon * biographical blurb (illus. photo by Roger Mastroianni)
18 * A Poetic Bestiary * group * poetry (illus. Sandra Dionisi)
18 * Where I Am * Brian Swann * pm (reprinted from Prairie Schooner,  Fall 1990)
18 * Natural Sympathy * Carl Zettelmeyer * pm
19 * After the Animal Hospital * Walter Pavlich * pm
19 * Giraffe * Enid Shomer * pm
21 * Rabbits, Live and Dressed * Paul Many * ss (illus. Alan E. Cober)
25 * Paul Many * anon. * bi (illus. photo by Roger Mastroianni)
26 * Antlers * Rick Bass* ss (illus. Thomas Woodruff)
34 * Rick Bass * anon. * bi
37 * Man and Beast * Susan Vita Weiss * ar (illus. photographs by William Duke)
41 * The Keeper * Linda Pastan * pm (illus. John Rush) reprinted from The Georgia Review. Spring 1989 
42 * A Separate Peace: Five authors describe animals that share their lands and lives * group * excerpts (source texts uncredited, possibly commissioned for this issue of the magazine) (illus. Bill Russell)
42 * Tolstoy's Dog * Yevgeny Yevtushenko (translated by Antonina W. Bouis) * ex 
42 * The Eagle * Linda Hogan * ex
42 * Sighting the Bear * Russell Banks * ex
43 * Sacred Cow * Madison Smartt Bell * ex
43 * Making Peace * Barbara Kingsolver * ex
44 * Dog Stories * Francine Prose * ss (illus. Michael Paraskevas)
53 * Francine Prose * anon. * bi (photo by Robin Thomas)
55 * The She-Shah * Colette (translated by Enid McLeod) * ss (from Creatures Great and Small, Farrar, Straus 1952)(illus. Nina Berkson)
58 * Animal Rights Tactics for the '90s * group * cartoons
58 * "Down with Down!" * P. S. Mueller * cartoon
58 * "Oh, Frieda! That blue-haired dowager is to DIE for!" * Buddy Hickerson * cartoon
58 * "Look Up!" * Bonnie Timmons * cartoon
59 * "Peruvian tree sloths stage a lay-in at the strip-mining site." * Mark Marek * cartoon
59 * "Oh, Professor Jenkins, come in. We...I mean I would like to talk with you about your work with the laboratory animals." * Kevin Pope * cartoon
59 * "Arrrg!" [shouts a fur hunter as a fox cheerfully spaypaints its fur with blue splotches] * Elwood Smith
61 * Books with Bite: Fiction that captures the animal kingdom * Digby Diehl * br column (illus. photo-collage by Don Dudenbostel)
61 * The Cockroaches of Stay More by Donald Harrington * br
61 * Edge of Eden by Nicholas Proffitt * br
61 * The White Puma by R. D. Lawrence * br
61 * Carmen Dog by Carol Emshwiller * br
63 * Cream of the Creatures: Reworked classics, the perils of a daring young rat, and other animal tales for kids * Sherill Tippins * br column (illus. Henrik Drescher)
63 * Belling the Cat and Other Aesop's Fables retold in verse by Tom Paxton, illustrated by Robert Rayevsky * br
63 * A Visit from Dr. Katz by Ursula K. Le Guin, illustrated by Ann Barrow * br
63 * Poems of A. Nonny Mouse selected by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Henrik Drescher * br
63 * A Rat's Tale by Tom Seidler, illustrated by Fred Marcellino * br
63 * An Eyeful of Animals * Sherill Tippins * children's animated video reviews sidebar
63 * Five Lionni Classics * vr
63 * How the Leopard Got His Spots (as narrated by Danny Glover) * vr
63 * The Fisherman and His Wife (as read by Jodie Foster) * vr
63 *  Pecos Bill (as read by Robin Williams) * vr
64 * Elsewhere in Special Reports * house ad for the then-current issues of Special Report: LivingSR: FamilySR: SportsSR: Health and SR: Personalities
66 * Passages * house ad with excerpts from items in the current issues of the six Special Report: magazines.


TracyK said...

I like the sound of this story, Todd. And Francine Prose is a very interesting author.

Todd Mason said...

It's definitely worth seeking out, in either volume...somehow it seems strange that this magazine was published thirty years ago, her kids mentioned in the post-story author blurb on the cusp of middle age, she in her 70s now...a career to envy, certainly.

Or maybe it's just odd since I picked up this issue, clearly about to be tossed, from my doctor's office back when...