Atmosphere So Pungent It Smells


Mostly, I’m a nice person, a good citizen and all of that. At least, I try to be. I’m the kind of person who will patiently walk out to the compost bin at 10 p.m. in the dead of winter to compost all of that salad I never manage to eat. Yesterday, though, I went into a Pet Shop and bought a cat. In the liberal bubble in which I live, I might as well admit to second degree homicide or a serious drug addiction. Or both. I know I should have adopted a cat, but whatever. I bought a cat. I’m going to own it.

The Pet Shop, called simply Pet Shop, is right across from Barnes & Noble, which I use as an office a few times a week. I often bring my daughter when I write. We pet cats after. Yada yada yada. Now we have a cat.

The mall that contains the Pet Shop is a building of airport hangar proportions with an empty spot in its soul where TJ Maxx used to be. Except during the holidays or William Kent Krueger signings, it’s mostly empty. The Pet Shop itself is a nasty little hole of a place filled with people of every color, religion, and walk of life, drawn together by their love of fluffy white dogs. When I think about it that way, it’s sort of beautiful, almost sounds like a church.

Mary already talked about the difference between atmosphere and setting this month, but this Pet Shop isn’t just a generic pet shop. Its atmosphere is so strong you can smell it. It clings to your clothes when you leave and makes you wonder about who you really are as a person—Will I abandon my values to pet a fluffy dog? For me, the answer seems to be yes. Anyway, this leads me to my point. (Thank God I thought of one!) A book’s atmosphere has to match its story. Obvious, but that’s all I’ve got today.

Every time I walk into the Pet Shop, I imagine so many stories, mostly crime. There are probably few YA romances in there, too.

  • The posters advertising pet loans are almost a story by themselves. Most of the people in that shop are one French bulldog away from bankruptcy, me included. Add in a pet store owner/loan shark, a divorce, a murder, and you’ve got a gritty crime novel infused with the scent of unwashed dog.
  • What if the owner bribed a USDA inspector to ignore the decomposing hedgehog in the small animal section? That has Carl Hiassen written all over it, which reminds me—I need to read Razor Girl.

At any rate, I don’t think people would steer clear of the puppies if they had to stand over a chalk outline. I’m not sure if I added anything to our monthly discussion about atmosphere, but there you have it. Here’s a picture of the new kitten.


Anyone have book recommends for the Thanksgiving holiday?


8 thoughts on “Atmosphere So Pungent It Smells”

  1. Aww, she’s so cute! I’m always torn when I go by the pet store in one of the local malls. The dogs are so cute, and they probably come from puppy mills, but they’re so cute.


    I think you’ve got some great story ideas there. 🙂

    As for books, I read a good one recently THE KENNEDY CONNECTION by RG Belsky. More thriller than straight mystery; main character is a disgraced tabloid reporter (can you be anything other than disgraced if you’re a tabloid reporter?).


  2. Awwww!!! What’s your new kitty’s name?? This was a hilarious and thought-provoking post, Sam. You’re absolutely right that the atmosphere has to match the story. Looking forward to seeing everyone’s book recommendations…I need a good read over Thanksgiving, too!


  3. *sniffling* Your post reminds me of a trip I took to our local pet shop 22 years ago with one of my daughters. She spied a kitty, batted her eyes at me, and said, “Can we have it, Mom?” When I said “yes,” her jaw dropped. We hid the kitten from her dad for about a week, who finally came around, and we all lived happily together until kitty passed 3 years ago.

    As for book recommendations, I confess, I am giving myself a holiday treat by re-reading an old favorite of mine by Phyllis A. Whitney and remembering why I always enjoyed her books.


  4. Sue, that’s so funny! My husband is till coming around to the kitty, too. I’ll look up Phyllis Whitney. 🙂

    The name is still a matter of debate. I should have asked for name suggestions!


  5. I imagine if you had asked for name suggestions, you would end up with lots of fun mystery-related ones like Agatha or Watson 😉


  6. Agatha! Going to suggest that one to my daughter. Actually, I want to have another baby now. You should totally use one of those for your little one.


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