Paul, weaning himself from an anti-depressant, takes his family to SeaWorld. His daughter, Deirdre, is afraid of everything. On the way to the orca show, the main event, they see flamingos and the shark exhibit. But Paul is worried about what he might see, because his [politically incorrect] psychiatrist has warned him that the drug might have some lingering effects: “In withdrawal from Celexa some patients have described a kind of atmosphere of rot or corruption or peril creeping around the edges of the everyday world, a thing no one but they can identify.” This is the “grub-in-meat syndrome,” and Paul is wary. He’s wary because of his secret name for himself—Pending Vegan.
Paul has been reading about sustainability and the evils of factory farming. He now believes it’s wrong to eat animals, but it’s difficult to explain to his twin girls. While looking at the sharks, the girls ask if they can get a pet. (A shark brings this to mind?) Which causes Paul to flashback to the Jack Russell terrier he and his wife had had before the girls were born, a dog that had been so possessive of his pregnant wife that Paul had to take him back to the shelter. The dog, named Maurice, isn’t mentioned until half way through the story, but as we’ll see he is what brings the story to a somewhat satisfying end. Because Bingo, a Jack Russell terrier who is part of the pre-Orca show entertainment, turns out to be Maurice, all these years later.
The Q&A with Jonathan Lethem suggests that Lethem is thinking about the situation of starting down a path—such as becoming a vegan, but there are other themes in the story, too, like being a husband and father—and then getting stuck.
There are some great concepts and ideas in this story, but I’m not sure they’re working well together. Paul’s pending veganism is a great thought. So many of us, I think, having read the books Paul has read, realize that veganism is the way to go, but just can’t take the necessary steps to get there. Also, being stuck—and Paul is stuck deep—is connected to the anti-depressants he’s been taking and from which he’s beginning to emerge. But that part of the story is less clear to me. Is SeaWorld in a different light because of the drug? And how does this relate to the dog who is reunited with the family in the end? Not sure.