In our first review of July, Courtney Harler dives into R.L. Maizes’s debut novel, Other People’s Pets, out today from Celadon Books. “[Much] like Pam Houston’s debut novel Sight Hound,” Harler writes, “Maizes’s new writing elucidates the unbreakable bonds humans can form with their pets, or even ‘other people’s pets’—if they are particularly sensitive or caring, and actually care to be so.”
R.L. Maizes begins her debut novel, Other People’s Pets, with a near-tragedy. While ice-skating with her inattentive mother, La La has fallen through the lake’s surface: “Her snowsuit inhales icy water and clings to her, weighing her down and threatening to pull her under.” Then her mother disappears, and La La is saved by a dog black as night. (The dark irony of the dog’s color—black, the color of death, not life—pervades the entire novel.) La La’s not actually rescued from the water until an emergency crew arrives, but the barking dog keeps her company, gives her hope, until human helpers can intervene. Like La La’s mother, the diligent dog then disappears. This dangerous, mysterious encounter renders La La an animal empath, forever changing the course of her life. Her shamed mother abandons her—for good—and La La eventually studies to be a veterinarian. However, of course, to propel the novel’s plot, dire oppositional forces must now come into play. While La La’s mother is out of the the picture, her father is ever-present, and so is his penchant for burglary. Posing as a freelance locksmith, Zev teaches La La, only a young girl at the time, how to research and rob the homes of the rich. As a young woman, La La forsakes the family trade for veterinary school, her lifelong dream, but when her father is caught, La La needs quick cash to pay Zev’s lawyer, and so inevitably returns to her childhood training. The events that ensue radically redirect La La’s life (again), and subsequently threaten what she, buried deep within her broken psyche, holds most dear: friends and family, both human and animal.