Jun 7 2012
Dear Ms. Weir,
The idea of a cat as a major character and narrator in a romance would normally send me running from the room, but then I realized you were the author. If anyone could pull this off, you could. So I asked for the ARC and sat down to read. Within two pages I was reading passages aloud to my husband, who is the cat person in our household. I read the novella in one sitting, completely ignoring the fact that it was my turn to make dinner.
When I finished the story, I realized that it contained the dark, difficult themes that your more conventional work is known for, but here the tough stuff came in a deceptively light wrapper because so much of it was conveyed through Max’s perspective. But fear not, readers, while there are cutesy bits in the novella, there’s no cute overload.
Max lives with his human, Melody, and he’s quite worried about her. Melody has lived alone since the murder of her husband, David, two years ago. She has brief, unsatisfying flings with unsuitable men, and Max decides that he is going to find her a decent guy who will make both of them happy. This involves leaving the house and the yard, which is a major enterprise for him:
Leaving home was easy. All he had to do was slip out the doggy door that had been installed by the previous homeowners. When Melody and David moved into the place there had been some discussion about the door.
“Max won’t leave the yard,” David had predicted.
He’d been right. In fact, just thinking of what might dwell beyond the solid fence scared the beejesus out of Max. Now, as he sat in the safety of his backyard kingdom, doubt crept in and he briefly wondered about the practicality of his matchmaking plan. But the trepidation didn’t last long. His spontaneous nature kicked in and he scaled the fence, then perched casually on a post, fake-licking a paw to give the impression that he had all day and was not on a mission. A cat, especially a cat like him, had to retain an outward appearance of cool at all times.
Upon occasion he’d had the misfortune of spending time with cats that cried and begged and generally made fools of themselves. He would never be one of those cats. Even if he were shaking inside, he wouldn’t let anybody see his fear.
With a vague plan in mind, he dove headfirst off the post, the pads of his feet contacting the rough surface of the fence boards, the ground rising to meet him.
Max ventures into the big wide world, winds up at a homeless shelter and is taken home by Joe, who works there. Joe and Melody hit it off, and Joe and Max do too. It takes Max another trip or two to the shelter (and Joe bringing him back to Melody), but pretty soon, Joe and Melody are an item. Neither Melody nor Max knows much about Joe, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem until real life, in the form of Joe’s present and Melody’s past, intrudes. This is a romance, so there is a happy resolution, but there’s quite a bit of worry and angst on everyone’s part before we arrive there. The path includes Max wearing a funny hat and allowing children to pet him (Max hates kids), violence and danger to people Max loves, Max’s search for his siblings, and Ellen DeGeneres.
The entire story is not told through Max’s POV; we experience events via Joe and Melody as well. This is necessary, because Max, being a cat, doesn’t quite have a handle on everything that goes on in the human world, and he’s not in every scene we read. I really appreciated that Max was portrayed as a intelligent feline who happened to have desires and thought processes that he could share with the reader, rather than being SuperCat:
Max ran from the room, heading straight for the doggy door he’d forgotten was sealed until he smacked his head against it. With that escape route out of the question, he thundered down the basement steps and hid behind the clothes dryer, where Melody found him a few minutes later.
“You must be sick if you’re hiding down here in this awful place.” She tried to coax him out, but he refused to budge. Let her come and get him. Which, unfortunately, she did.
She pulled out the machine and dove for him before he could make a run for it. Then she crushed him to her racing heart and brushed the cobwebs from his face and whiskers. He felt her terror, and for a moment he couldn’t place it or understand it.
She kissed his head and rocked him against her. “You can’t be sick. I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you.”
And then her terror made sense. She was afraid of losing him. And he suddenly felt bad about peeing on Joe’s clothes. He wanted to tell her he was fine. Instead, he squirmed away and ran upstairs. Once in the kitchen, he began meowing for food the way he did every morning, this time to demonstrate that he did indeed feel completely normal.
The writing throughout the book is unvarnished and direct, including the scenes written from human POVs. I think this is was a good choice, because otherwise the shifts between Max and the human characters could have been quite jarring. But the simplicity of the style also means that the ramifications of events and characters’ thought processes can take a minute to sink in:
She’d never been to his place. In fact, she didn’t even know where his place was. What did she know about him? Really? He’d brought Max home. He was kind. He worked at a shelter. But when she thought about it, when she tried to think of any conversation that dealt with anything beyond her job, the shelter, and Max, she couldn?t come up with much. He knew all about David and David’s murder. Melody had drunk too much wine on several occasions and blabbed on and on about her sister and her mother and her father. But Joe? She knew nothing about Joe.
He had a secret. She was sure he had a secret. He was a part of her life, but she wasn’t a part of his. Sometimes in her heart of hearts, she felt she should embrace the crazy cat lady thing and forget about men completely. Why shouldn?t a woman be able to find enough happiness in her job, baking cupcakes, and spoiling her cat? Men just complicated things. Men just disrupted the peace.
I couldn’t figure out a way to write a proper summary, or to go into details about the characterizations and the storyline, without giving away too much and taking the chance that other readers wouldn’t have the pure pleasure of discovery that I did. But Jayne has done a bang-up job in her review, thank goodness. I will just say that Melody is more than a ditzy cat-lady widow and Joe is more than the straightforward decent guy he appears to be. Ellen DeGeneres is pretty much Ellen DeGeneres. The last quarter of the novella ratchets up the plot and the angst quite a bit, but it works; there are a number of scenes that could go over the top but don’t.
The story turns out to be an emotionally complicated relationship between
two three characters with quite a bit of baggage, and it really snuck up on me. I’m reading along, enjoying Max’s voice and perspective, seeing Melody and Joe’s relationship and the increasingly serious plot twists mostly through Max’s voice. And it isn’t until the end that I realize how powerful the story I’ve just read is, and how much it has affected me.
And that’s when I know that if Theresa Weir decides to write her next book from the POV of a not-very-bright goldfish who lives in a studio apartment in Omaha, I’ll preorder it as soon as they let me.