The Mud Puppy, by Rachel Furey
Location: Rose O’Neill Literary House
I begin my reaction with a warning, but please, do not get the wrong impression. If you were the kid to pick up newts and bugs, read. If you are going through a rough time and need some humanization, some comfort, read. Or if you’re just bored at the Lit House and you happen to see a green, thin book, read. Still, my warning:
If you are a pre-vet, you might or might not want to read.
If you are a vegetarian, you might not want to read.
If you are a vegan, you especially might not want to read.
If you are a vegan pre-vet, run.
Before I give a wrong impression, I do not mean to dissuade any readers from Rachel Furey’s story, “The Mud Puppy.” Selected for One Teen Story magazine, it’s well worth its pages. As an animal lover and (forgive me) vegetarian, I simply feel a need to give warning and reminder to my people; we cannot take offense should someone enjoy a burger.
I was curious about “The Mud Puppy,” if only for its earthy title and rich, well-designed cover (if you’d rather not read, you can always just stare at the cover for an hour or so). I wanted to find out what this creature had to do with the story, how it had crawled its way onto the pages and made a name there. I wanted to see what style the author chose, if it would be a grand tale of a mudpuppy knight charging at a komodo dragon, draped in tiny (yet impenetrable) armor, or if it would be a meditation, a metaphor, in which the mudpuppy represents our doomed mortality (why not?), or maybe if it were a magical creature granting wishes, the story told (poorly) through its mud-covered eyes.
It was none of these things, but that’s okay.
Instead, the mud puppy is a coming-of-age story (bear with me) told through the second-person narrative. Yes, this narrative can be a bit off-putting at times, we’re so used to the first and the third, but for some reason we seem to forget that “you” exists when we write. And the story is all about you (no, really, I’m serious- see for yourself). Still, we’ve (or I’ve, or you’ve) read enough coming-of-age stories to last the next twelve generations of us who come of age, so why bother with one more (and one that might be so frightening to vegan pre-vets, too)?
Because it brings to terms life here at Washington College.
College is great and college sucks; these are the two extremes that make up the college experience. Most people find that their experience is not clear cut in one category but made up of a heterogeneous mixture (pre-vets, still reading?) that works out to somewhere in the middle: my English class is terrible but then again I just had a really cool class with the Tolkien dude; my Friday night was dead but then Saturday I nearly died, heck yeah; I think I just offended my entire friend group but I just found some really cool people who invited me to hang out. We get to a certain point and we decide how good or how bad it really was. Sometimes, however, there are commonalities in the complaints and a lot of them come from the fact that college is a mixture.
College is not a place filled with young adults trying to fulfill themselves, nor is it a place filled with old teenagers trying to lose themselves. College is a place of senior-year middle schoolers and of freshmen-year philosophers, of people shedding skins and of people growing shells. Just as commonly as there are cliques, there are kind strangers befriending us with smiles. You, this you so discovered in “The Mud Puppy,” are a true middle schooler stuck in a nursing home a little too much like that middle school. Your friend ruins your day and your tormentor comforts you. Your family is absent and yet a stranger cries with you. Oh, my, hasn’t it been a rough time for you? Oh, my, hasn’t it been swell?
Furey’s story is not great and it doesn’t suck. It made me disgusted and it brightened my day. Lest I become formulaic in the contradictions, I’ll leave with a thought of mine: I might have misread the story entirely, but I, who am not a middle school girl going through changes, could connect with it. My sister might not be anorexic (I thank the stars that she loves cooking) but I could still think of her adventurous spirit. My mother might be far from aloof but I could still think of times when I could not turn to her. And I might not be a middle schooler volunteering at an old folks home, but I certainly can feel like it some days on this campus- because college is great, and because college sucks.
~ Reilly Cox ‘16