The most salient element in Budnitz’s style is her use of Lisa as a third-person narrator. This device maintains a distance between Budnitz readers and the other characters in the story. Readers learn nothing directly about the mother, father, and two sons. Everything revealed about them is derived through Lisa’s accounts. Even Lisa does not emerge as a fully developed character. She is more a mouthpiece than a rounded protagonist.
The man/dog in the story is reminiscent of the beggars who peppered America’s countryside during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, when hordes of hungry, unemployed men wandered aimlessly about begging for a crust of bread and a cup of water. These men, homeless and hopeless, were not threatening individually, but they reflected a drastic social condition that was extremely threatening to society overall.
Budnitz purposely obscures the causes of the crisis that surrounds Lisa’s family. They are unaware of the causes but are painfully aware of the outcomes of this social upheaval. Howard is similar to Joseph K., the hounded protagonist in Franz Kafka’s Der Prozess (1925; The Trial, 1937), who knows that he is in serious trouble but who is never made aware of what his crime might be. Joseph is paralyzed by his heightened state of paranoia. Oddly, he wants only to be accused of something specific from which he can defend himself.
When Budnitz finally brings Lisa’s dysfunctional family together, they have stopped talking, communicating instead with snickers, stares, and shrugs. They gather in the living room only because they need to share the body heat that they can produce collectively. The rest of the house is too cold for them to endure. It is in this setting that Pat remarks that in Korea, people eat dogs. This statement sparks Howard into shooting the man/dog as his wife protests that the creature is human.