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1300 Rats.
August 7, 2008 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Thirteen Hundred Rats : a short story by T. Coraghessan Boyle on the importance of choosing your pets.

More from T.C. Boyle:
Other short stories published in the New Yorker
More Fiction published in Harper's.
Book Reviews from the New York Times
posted by grapefruitmoon (27 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Double.

Also, does the New Yorker have to publish so many TC Boyle stories? I mean, I get it when they publish Updike every couple of months, but really? TC Boyle?
posted by billysumday at 5:41 PM on August 7, 2008


Double refers to this post, where the short story was linked in a comment.
posted by billysumday at 5:42 PM on August 7, 2008


Finally, let me say that I know that I sound like a complete snob when I say, in essence, "Oh, bother - Alice, the New Yorker has published another T. Coraghessan Boyle story, my dear. I fear that their fiction editor may have lost his mind; though Boyle may be on par with Eugenides, the man is no Toby Wolff! For heaven's sake, it is a truly pitiful age for literature. Now pass me my pipe!" But really, I don't mind coming off as a pompous buffoon because a) I am one and b) the New Yorker only publishes so many fiction pieces a year, and those slots should go to really, truly amazing pieces of fiction, which Boyle's works rarely are.

So huzzah, muthafuckaz!!
posted by billysumday at 5:51 PM on August 7, 2008


I had pet rats as a child, amazing animals.

Till they get the cancer, cough up blood, and die in the palm of your hand.

Protip: Only get one rat at a time.
posted by The Power Nap at 5:59 PM on August 7, 2008


thanks for this link g/f/m
I think I'm gonna write a story about people who wait to type 'double' and who, then, doubtlessly have several orgasms in your face baby cause they cool thjat way and read MF every moment of every got dam day!
The six degrees here are that my Semantics prof (and English dept chair) in Uni (Dick Veit) roomed with TC Boyle in his years at Iowa State. I almost did a thesis on him but went with the Southern author Larry Brown.
Anyway, excellent post.
posted by dawson at 6:30 PM on August 7, 2008


I happened to stumble across 1300 Rats a few weeks ago. The other stuff I haven't seen, so thanks. Big TC Boyle fan here.
posted by fixedgear at 6:47 PM on August 7, 2008


Double.
Double refers to this post, where the short story was linked in a comment.


I'm familiar with the rules and bylaws of MetaFilter, which state that unless a post is linked to in a previous FPP, it does not count as a double. Comments =/= FPP.

Also the rules indicate that posting "double" without context is poor form and some greater reason needs to be given for disapproving of the post (e.g., "Your favorite short story writer sux.").
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:54 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Finally, let me say that I know that I sound like a complete snob . . .

Yeah, are you done now or do you want to get the next three comments in a row too? Nothing worse than some pretentious derail stealing the limelight from a good post and an enjoyable story. Of the 60+ New Yorker stories they must publish a year (including the Winter and Summer fiction issues), I'm snobby enough to give this one a pass.

Why don't you pack up all that heat and take it to Letters to the Editor, man?

Three comments in a row? Really?
posted by Avenger50 at 8:49 PM on August 7, 2008


Power Nap: keeping single rats is bad for them; they really want other rats to hang out with. Two is fine though, and they spay and neuter just fine. And they don't all get cancer. Lots of them get horrible lung diseases and drown in their own fluids. Wonderful pets though, hurts like a bitch when they die.
posted by freedryk at 9:17 PM on August 7, 2008


I don't like rats and I didn't like this story.

Just so you know...
posted by shoesietart at 9:29 PM on August 7, 2008


Protip: Only get one rat at a time.

Jesus fucking Christ talk about misinformation. Only owning one rat at a time is just about the worst possible fucking thing you can do to it - rats are among the most intensely social creatures you can purchase in a pet store.

Seriously - single rat ownership is tantamount to animal cruelty. Do NOT do this.
posted by Ryvar at 10:08 PM on August 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wonderful pets though, hurts like a bitch when they die.

It's because they're as intelligent as puppies, but never any smarter than that. They form little proto-personalities that you get to learn, and then they die. Every freaking two years.

I loved rats as pets back when I had them, but I eventually came to the conclusion that they're really only meant for emotional masochists.
posted by Ryvar at 10:16 PM on August 7, 2008


and then they die. Every freaking two years.

I like short-lived pets. Not long term commitment. Birds, parrots especially, live forfreakingever. I mean why not get a turtle - for your grandkids. Never get a pet that requires you to plan for its future in your will.

But on the good side, at least they aren't killed in drug raids when SWAT kicks in your door by mistake.
posted by shoesietart at 10:33 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I almost did a thesis on him but went with the Southern author Larry Brown.

I'm a huge fan of Brown, would it be weird if I ask if your thesis is available to read?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:37 PM on August 7, 2008


Protip: If you want a pet rodent, go for a degu. They're fairly long-lived, social, and diurnal. Which means they won't keep you up at night with the squeaky running wheel, and you don't get sad every two years when they die.

My wife and I had a pet rat. He was lots of fun. We interacted with him daily, taking him out to play. We don't have the energy to do that with another rat, so we have cats now.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:38 AM on August 8, 2008


I thought it was a decent, if not spectacular, story. Boyle's chosen voice -- something of the air of a Christmas letter addendum "How about this crazy story?" -- was a bit jarring although one could see how it suited the material.

Was anyone else reminded, though, of George R.R. Martin's Sandkings?
posted by dhartung at 7:00 AM on August 8, 2008


Interesting Sandkings comparison dhartung! I love that story.
posted by Lou Stuells at 7:05 AM on August 8, 2008


I wasn't crazy about the story although I generally like Boyle. But then I'm phobic about rats, so perhaps that was it, although I kept thinking to myself, look, this is serious literary fiction. It must have a Meaning. What is the meaning? Rats are scary and they will eat you? Hmm. Is he looking for love in all the wrong places? Is this anything but a creepy urban legend kind of thing like you might get in an email from an ex coworker? Am I missing something here? I still haven't decided.

I thought of Sandkings too, but I couldn't remember the name of the story. Thanks, dhartung.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:40 AM on August 8, 2008


kept thinking to myself, look, this is serious literary fiction. It must have a Meaning. What is the meaning?

I felt that the meaning was about defying expectations.

People felt he needed a pet. The expectation would certainly be something along the lines of dog/cat/fish/bird. Instead he got a snake. Then, he defied the pet shop owner's expectation by buying more and more rats... because he found that he cared more for the rats than for the snake.

And in the end, the rats defied HIS expectation by breeding more numerously than he could ever imagine. Of course, the neighbors' expectations were also defied because how could they ever have imagined that he would have allowed the recommendation to "get a pet" to lead to his death at the hands of 1,300 rats?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:11 AM on August 8, 2008


I had pet rats for awhile. And I have to echo that bonding with a pet, and then having them die like clockwork 2 years later is awful.

But they're marvelous pets - they can be taught tricks, and they actually like being pets, which is more than I can say for things like hamsters, who always want to escape. In my experience of leaving the top of my rat cage open for years, rats will escape once, discover that there's no food out there, but there was back in the cage, and then never try to escape again.
posted by MythMaker at 9:28 AM on August 8, 2008


Yeah, but usually defying expectations is seen as a good thing, whereas here the consequences are kind of dire. I did think that maybe it was sort of an extended meditation on obsessive love - he loved his wife obsessively; she died; he replaced her with the rats and then loved them obsessively with, as above, dire consequences. Or maybe when he lost her he lost himself as well and the rats are symbolic of what he felt was left to him?

I have kept on thinking about the story longer than I usually do New Yorker stories (too many of their stories go like this: woman gazes out window onto manicured lawns. Something is missing in her soul! Perhaps more gazing is in order! Maybe that casual encounter from 30 years ago was meaningful after all! Or not. Husband comes home.) and that's one of those hallmarks by which I figure something has intrinsic value. It's an unsettling tale, anyway.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:29 AM on August 8, 2008


You just have to keep the males and females separate, that's all.
posted by MythMaker at 9:29 AM on August 8, 2008


I thought it was about the neighbor/narrator having regrets about not making more of an effort to reach out to this person who was obviously in need.
posted by fixedgear at 10:12 AM on August 8, 2008


Yeah, but usually defying expectations is seen as a good thing, whereas here the consequences are kind of dire.

Right, which I think was Boyle's point. Sometimes what happens is far worse than anything you could have predicted.

Boyle's work, on the whole, is beautifully grim.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:33 AM on August 8, 2008


I was only ever allowed one rat as a time, as the vet in our area wouldn't operate on them (I grew up in the backwoods). But if it is any consolation to you other rat lovers, Houdini and Pinky never left my side. I would walk around all day with them, and take them everywhere.

We did get Pinky a playmate once, but she beat the crap out of him so we took him back.

I could get my rats to live about 3 to 4 years, but my mother put a stop to it because she couldn't take it anymore. This was because Houdini, my last rat, used to break out of His cage and go crawl into bed with her. They are alot like dogs in many ways.
posted by The Power Nap at 10:50 AM on August 8, 2008


Sounds like you did the best you could under the circumstances. Apologies for reacting so strongly, it's just a recurring piece of misinformation I keep seeing that leads to a lot of miserable pets. Worst of all, it can make the rat in question pretty unsocialized, leading to a downward spiral in the owner-pet relationship. Bleh.

And yeah, rodent introductions need to be managed extremely carefully - gerbils generally default to attempting to kill each other, etc.
posted by Ryvar at 1:49 PM on August 8, 2008


I ... think that story's supposed to be saying something about snobby society and how Gerard could have been saved from his depression and death if not for the barriers thrown up by the social niceties of the narrator and the rest of the community? Like, he wouldn't have drowned in the first bit of affection/attention he got (from the rats) if the people around him had spent time with him instead of trying to dump animals on him.

But there are tons of stories that raise those issues better than this one, because honestly? Man buys animal as pet. Man does not research proper husbandry of animal. Because of this, not only do many animals die, but so does man. Reader is much sadder about animal deaths than about man. The end.

And the morals of the story are, don't feed your snakes live, and speuter your rats*!



* Or house them separated by sex. But hey, if you can speuter them, I'm given to understand it's good for their health anyway - at least for the females.
posted by bettafish at 10:28 AM on August 9, 2008


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