REVIEW: The Cat’s Meow by Lucius Parhelion
This is a novella formerly published through a small press. The rights were reverted back to the author and the novella is available for free.
Given how 1930 was shaping up, Fred was thrilled when fulfilling some promises first made by his brother, Charlie, lead to the offer of a studio job. Too bad Fred didn’t ask if Carl Belasco was promised anything other than cat-sitting and help renovating.
Dear Lucius Parhelion,
I was inclined to like this story from the start for two reasons. One our reviewer Sirius recommended it to me and I trust her taste and two it features a cat and not just any cat but a white Persian with gold eyes. One of my cat masters (who graciously deigned to pose for this picture) fits this description.
It’s early 1930s Golden Age Hollywood and films have just begun progressing from silent to the talkies. But our hero Fred isn’t an actor – his brother Charlie is. Fred is one final exam away from finishing his degree as an accountant following his brother in choosing not to go to work in the family construction business. It’s for this reason, after a fight with his father, that Fred finds himself bunking on the sofa at Charlie’s “above a garage” apartment. His new roommate is a surprise though.
“Stop touching me,” Fred said, not really awake yet. Anyone who grew up as the youngest of four learned to issue vital commands while half asleep.
His polite demand failed, of course. The soft something touched Fred’s nose again just as the weight of the book on his chest and the ache from the crick in his neck informed him that he’d dozed off while studying on the sofa. And here came another poke; it must be Charlie playing the elder brother from hell, prodding away with a pencil eraser or a broad-nibbed pen. If Charlie was leaving ink dots on Fred’s nose, he was a dead man.
“In this trying year of 1930, men have died and worms have eaten them, and all for poking…” Fred blinked as he trailed off.
He had finally managed to pry apart his gummy eyelids, but not upon a view of Charlie’s smirking features. Instead, Fred saw a pale mass of fur. Right above his head, perched on the sofa arm, a flat-faced white cat examined Fred through narrowed yellow eyes before reaching out a forepaw with its claws sheathed, to delicately touch Fred’s nose.
Fred felt himself squint, heard himself ask, “See here. Who are you?” If he’d ever needed proof he wasn’t brilliant while waking, those words were it. The cat had stopped poking and now seemed to consider staring at short range enough entertainment, …”
Mr. Flurry no doubt gave that silly question the look of disdain it required. Fred soon finds out that Mr. Flurry belongs to Charlie’s landlady and Charlie has promised Fred’s help to her son Carl Belasco with some renovations on her house. But Belasco’s real job is at a film studio and after a weekend of work – which doubles as an interview for both of them – he hires Fred as a flunky in training in charge of checking up on the finances of the studio’s movies in production.
This is a time when homosexuals hid their preferences and though Fred is attracted, he makes no move on Carl beyond expressing sympathy that the man’s wife is in Reno for a divorce. But is the feeling one-sided or – if they can work the issue into the open between them – is there the chance for more?
I loved the wit and humor of the story and how delicately details of the age are casually sprinkled in it. Points are made but not belabored counting on readers to be intelligent enough to grasp them and retain them. Fred and Carl are cautious and must be circumspect so there will be no public scenes but when their emotions are finally let loose, the intensity zings. I laughed at the scene in which Charlie calls Carl out on his intentions towards his little brother because Fred is “romantic.” Carl however, is having none of that.
your brother will take his time sorting me out, and you will glower warningly from the correct distance as he does so.”
“Nice to be consulted during all this planning,” Fred told the Model A on the other side of his window.
“As I mentioned,” Carl said to Charlie, “he’ll sort me out. Was that clear?”
I think they will sort each other out and Fred just might get what he’s demanding of Carl. B+ only because I wanted a little bit more of Mr. Flurry
“A better job title. Junior sidekick instead of junior flunky. Eventually, if I came up with the needed abilities and results, I’d request a promotion to associate crony and then on to senior vice buddy with the extra perks–”
“The Cat’s Meow” read or download here