“Laurie” is a new short story by Stephen King, published for free via direct download on the author’s website this past May 17th. You can access the story in PDF form here.
The story follows Lloyd Sunderland, an old man whose wife Marian has passed away after 40 years of marriage. With no children and lacking immediate companionship, his retired life has diminished to monotony and grieving depression. He doesn’t get out much, nor does he eat often or well. Six months after Marian’s passing his older sister Beth pays him a visit, bringing with her a dark gray puppy. Beth pretty much forces the puppy on Lloyd, saying it will be for his own good, and a reluctant relationship begins between master and pup.
Before I even started the story, I had an inkling that it would be a little unremarkable. I don’t mean this as a knock against it, rather that I expected this story to have a familiar arc to it. It’s a sentimental story about dogs and I think most of us have come across stories just like this in some form or another before. “Laurie” is Stephen King’s take on such a story. He doesn’t take the story model and warp it into something grotesque or strange, though it does take a bit of a violent turn. It is a sincere take by King, telling a story of grief, companionship, and some of the joys and tribulations of raising a dog.
Expecting the inevitable turn in the story actually helped build some appreciable suspense. Some bumps in the road are expected but knowing King I especially had my eye out for hints that might point to something darker. At first, I suspected something was going to be off about the pup herself. It is mentioned more than once how she stares at Lloyd “seeming to study him” in a way that could be interpreted as either innocent curiosity or hints at something being off. At the very least I was anticipating something bad was going to happen to one or both of them. The suspense does pay off and in a way I appreciated, avoiding some of the more familiar sort of pitfalls that would make the story too predictable.
Much credit goes to just how well King got me to care about Lloyd and Laurie, the latter getting de facto love by virtue of being a dog. Lloyd is a perfectly balanced curmudgeon about the situation. On the one hand, he is absolutely right to criticize his sister for dumping a puppy on him unprompted. He’s going through a difficult time and one shouldn’t give animals as random gifts, a point that’s touched upon well. On the other hand, Laurie is a sweet pup and it becomes plain to see that she’s just what he needed to help cope with his grief, which he does not stubbornly refuse to acknowledge. He falls into his routines with her, trying to give her the best care he can, clearly coming to love her without the writing becoming overly sentimental. Their bond and the good it does Lloyd is a process, rather than treating a new puppy as a cure-all for personal woes.
If you love dogs and Stephen King’s writing you really can’t go wrong giving “Laurie” a read, especially since it is completely free. It’s full of the personality and small character details that I love his writing for, making me fall in love with the unlikely pair quite quickly. It does take a violent turn with some mild real-world horror, with a few grisly details, but otherwise tells a familiar yet enjoyable story of animal companionship that does not falter in a dangerous situation. It was especially affecting to learn that he dedicated the story to one of his own dogs who recently passed away.
My rating: 4 out of 5