Sweet Talk

Two days before we left Fort Niagara, we took the dog, Duke, to Charlie Battery, fourteen miles from the post, and left him with the mess sergeant. We were leaving him for only six weeks, until we could settle in Oklahoma and send for him. He had stayed at Charlie Battery before, when we visited our relatives in Ohio at Christmastime. He knew there were big meaty bones at Charlie Battery, and scraps of chicken, steak and turkey, slices of cheese, special big-dog bowls of ice cream. The mess at Charlie Battery was Dog Heaven, so gave us a soft, forgiving look as we walked with him from the car to the back of the mess hall. 

My mother said, as she always did at times like that, “I wish he knew more English.” 

When I think about “success” as a writer,  I mostly think I’d be happy just to write every day. But in my more ambitious idle thoughts, I dream of being on the New Yorker fiction podcast, reading and discussing some long forgotten story from the magazine’s archives with Deborah Treisman.

My all-time favorite New Yorker fiction podcast is Tobias Wolff reading Stephanie Vaughn’s “Dog Heaven,” excerpted above. I love this one in part because it’s a story about dogs, in part because Vaughn so deftly captures what it’s like to be powerless because of age, that is, what it’s like to be a child, and in part because the podcast introduced me to Stephanie Vaughn. 

At the end of that podcast, Triesman and Wolff have a sort of awkward, or awkward if you’re Stephanie Vaughn, chat about why Vaughn hasn’t published anything recently. Guys, I’m sure she’s working on it.

This was all in 2008, and in this month’s podcast, Tea Obreht reads another story from Vaughn’s collection, “Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog,” which is just as moving as “Dog Heaven” though not as much about dogs. This time, Treisman doesn’t question Vaughn’s work ethic, but announces happily that Sweet Talk is being reissued.

(I wish the Internet would report on how that initial podcast with Tobias Wolff ultimately led to the reissuing of Sweet Talk.)

All this is a long way of saying: listen to the New Yorker fiction podcast. Whether you start with my favorite story, “Dog Heaven,” or the most recent one, “Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog,” you’ll meet Stephanie Vaughn, a great writer whose time has come in the age of podcasts.