An Aspiring Veterinarian Turns to Crime in ‘Other People’s Pets’
Other People’s Pets: A Novel By R.L. Maizes (Celadon Books, 304 pp.)
It’s not too often you encounter a female Jewish burglar, especially one so empathic that she feels the pain of animals as if it were her own. La La Fine is a veterinary assistant, daughter of Zev, a locksmith-turned-burglar, and Elissa Gold, who never really wanted a child. Indeed, Elissa abandons the family soon after a young La La literally falls through thin ice, on a skating trip, and Elissa is accused of being an unfit mother.
Because a dog pulled her from that lake (instead of her mother), La La loves animals, adopting dogs she names Black and Blue, a reflection for her own psychic wounds, and a cat she names Mo, short for Mother. She views herself as a kind of stray, her self-image a contrast to the “frivolous” nickname Elissa gave her as a baby who sang la-la-la in her crib. Though she finds it hard to believe she was ever that happy, La La holds on to the name because it is one of the few things her mother gave her.
Her father, on the other hand, bequeaths to La La all the tricks of his trade. She becomes her father’s accomplice and “secret weapon,” calming watchdogs who might give them up during their burglaries. In veterinary school, she turns honest, but when Zev is arrested, she drops out and resumes robbing houses to pay for her father’s legal fees, rationalizing her theft by focusing on houses with pets whose illnesses she can sense and cure.
Not exactly a typical Jewish family.
While readers will not find overtly Jewish content, R.L. Maizes does drop crumbs that leave no doubt as to the family’s origin, beginning with names—La La’s parents, grandparents, Ruth and Harry Gold, and veterinarian-mentor, Dr. Bergman. There’s a small Hanukkah celebration and even a tepid bat mitzvah in which Zev and La La drink Manischewitz and eat sponge cake in their kitchen while reciting the Ten Commandments.
Maizes’ crisp characterizations and swift pace move the story along almost like a mystery while delving into deeply human and Jewish themes. What brings healing? What constitutes a family? How far do you go to honor your parents? La La refuses to abandon Zev because he never abandoned her, asking the question at the heart of the story: “Don’t all children owe their parents something?”
Other People’s Pets is the One Book, One Hadassah national book club pick for October. Join Hadassah Magazine Executive Editor Lisa Hostein on Thursday, October 22, at 7:00 p.m. EST for a live online event with author R.L. Maizes to discuss her novel, what it means to honors one’s parents, the Jewish connections to pets, magical realism in Jewish literature and more. Register here for the event.
Rahel Musleah, a frequent contributor to Hadassah Magazine, leads tours of Jewish India and speaks about its communities.