I typically enjoy Louise Erdrich’s short stories in the New Yorker, but her last one was a real delight. “Nero” blends a half-feral watchdog with courtship by combat in a half-civilized frontier town. (The time period isn’t clear, but the citizens seem to have just figured out how to get themselves into trouble with the electricity that’s been wired to their homes.)
In the midst of the story is a bravura scene where a tarantula and python turn on their showman during a visit to an elementary school. My only complaint is the ending feels a little preordained; any other direction would have been more satisfying. But that’s a small part of the story, which is well worth a read.
Update: Just saw this quote from Erdrich in the interview, which is fitting:
You probably read more short stories than anyone else on earth, so you know the rules. If a person gets romantic justice in the story, the dog must suffer, or vice versa. Also, I have never liked cocker spaniels.