by Tom Cox
Cat people are a particular breed unto themselves. We know that cat-related content represents the second largest flood of data on the internet. Cat people are stereotyped, of course. Mousy book-lovers. Lonely cafe denizens. Living in dusty bungalows with the smell of litter boxes. And, like gun owners and their guns, if they have one cat, they're very likely to have several. Indeed, the crazy cat lady on the corner is an iconic figure in many suburban communities. The author of this memoir keeps four cats (some say "amateur!"). We're not saying he's a stereotypical cat person, no. Cox is a funny, engaging, and engaged, writer. This is the story of his cats, his parents' cats, his neighbors' cats, and the numerous feral and stray cats that live in the bushes around his home. Foremost in this book published in 2015, we read of The Bear, an 18-year-old cat wise beyond understanding, who has an unsettling gaze and quiet demeanor.
This is the fourth book in Cox's series about his feline experiences, and as such, many readers will already be acquainted with The Bear, Shipley, Roscoe and Ralph. Even for the reader who starts here, though, we discover an engagingly gentle author at work. He creates distinct personalities for his cats, artfully putting human words into their minds and speech. There's a real craft in that, and Cox does it beautifully. Some readers and cat lovers may bristle at his insistence on allowing cats to roam, quite dangerously, across the landscape. This tends to cut short the lives of adventurous kitties, but Cox argues that a short full life is better than a long sluggish one. He has a point. In the meantime, the human characters in this book are somewhat in the background to the lives of the cats. Except perhaps for Cox's father, a larger than life figure choppping wood and shouting in all capital letters while adoring his own cat, Floyd. And so, moving from Norwich to Devon, across three houses and three semi-rural terrains, the cats survive the threats of badgers and libidinous ferals. Each one has his or her adventure, collecting dead voles and leaving the remains for the owls, hanging out in pubs and arguing over a warm lap.
Any good book about cats ends up being a good book about living. Cox and his family go through change and loss. The cats go through change and loss. It's all about finding happiness and love in a world full of indifference and hazard. The author finds his own way of doing this for the animals in his life. He tells their story with charm and humor and compassion. What more can a reader ask of a book about cats?
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