Short Story Review: "Madame Bovary's Greyhound" by Karen Russell
This is an odd sort of tale, one that means more if one was subjected to—I mean if one has read—Guy Flaubert’s Madame Bovary . If it doesn’t happen to be on your just-read shelf, Flaubert’s book is about a dullard and a young woman with unrealistic expectations who marry in 19th century France. At one point, the dullard gives his wife a greyhound puppy. She names the dog Djali. They are the best of friends, going for walks, cozying up by the fireside.
But the wife is bored. Her boredom infects all aspects of her life. “Why did I ever marry?” she asks no one in particular. Once the wife finds out she’s pregnant, the dullard (who is a physician) moves them farther outside Paris. During the move, the dog runs away and is never heard from again.
The writer of this story uses this incident to create a story from to dog’s point of view. The reader learns what happens to the Djali once she left the Bovarys. Author Karen Russell portrays first love, falling in love, like a dog’s faithful love, and then the experience of falling out of love, the confusion and the pain—like Madame Bovary forgetting her beloved greyhound’s name—as something that is just as incomprehensible.
A dog’s love is forever. We expect infidelity from one another; we marvel at this one’s ability to hold that one’s interest for fifty, sixty years; …But dogs do not receive our sympathy or our suspicion—from dogs we presume eternal adoration. (p. 294)
A reader who knows how self-destructive Madame Bovary becomes and how ineffectual her husband is despite his best attempts can understand why the dog jumped ship.
According to the Contributors’ Notes, author Karen Russell has two short story collections and a novel. She was a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2013 MacArthur Fellow.
Title: “Madame Bovary’s Greyhound”
Published in: The Best American Short Stories 2014
First Published: Zoetrope: All-Stars vol. 17 no. 2
Author: Karen Russell
©2015 Denise Longrie
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AliCanary wrote on June 27, 2015, 10:35 PM
Oh wow, you completely nailed Madame Bovary, to which I was subjected in college. Very interesting concept for a short story--kind of like how "fan fiction" will take a minor character and and develop a backstory for that person. Great review!
msiduri wrote on June 28, 2015, 7:30 AM
Thanks for the kind words! It is very much like fan fiction except that Emma really comes off as a spoiler. I read it in high school. I was so frustrated with both Emma and Charles even then. I didn't remember her greyhound when I read this story. High school was a while ago. I remember her daughter ending up in a workhouse because she went so deeply in debt. The dog ends up being loved, but missing how Emma loved him.
msiduri wrote on June 28, 2015, 7:31 AM
Thank you! Made my day.