Saturday, July 25, 2009

Homer's Odyssey

Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper
Published by Delacorte Press
an imprint of Random House Publishing
Available in Hardcover August 25, 2009

I've lived with cats now for 38 years. Currently, I reside with two felines - Fox, my soul partner, who came to me at 5 weeks old, a petite, biege fluffball with huge blue eyes and chocolate points and who grew into a 10 pound long-haired moose, and Buster, a very vocal, tiny black/white, sleek, lovable acrobat whose favorite spot to sleep is on Bud's head.

I love cats. I love their independent and entitled spirits, their barbarism and their delicacy. They are paradoxes that slink on tiny, fastidious, lethal toes. They are capable of anything. I love that about them.

And they call us mere humans to account for ourselves. The first time my prospective daughter-in-law visited me and Fox in our then apartment, Fox did what he naturally does. He checked her out by sitting smack in front of her on the floor and stared at her with his huge, blue eyes. Just sat and stared. After a few minutes, she began to squirm and asked me if I could get my cat to quit staring at her, it made her very nervous.

I didn't blame her. It's a very predatory behavior. It makes us nervous. We humans, after all, are supposed to be at the top of the food chain, yes? A cat's predatory behavior reminds us that we are, in fact, predators ourselves. We have that in common. Predators are survivors. They take those leaps of faith that are less choice than necessity.

Homer's Odyssey is the memior of a cat that, not only is blind, but has no eyes at all. His eyes removed as a kitten due to infection, Homer never knew what it was to be a cat with eyes. Gwen Cooper rescues Homer from euthanasia after being gently cajoled by a Veterinarian friend to do so. Gwen wonders what she is getting herself into and, indeed, Homer's presence in her life and the lives of her two other cats, Scarlet and Vashti, changes them all forever.

Homer's and Gwen's story, for this is really more about Gwen than Homer, is touching and inspiring as one would expect a pet memoir to be. But it is not maudlin or mawkish, it doesn't even ask us to run out and adopt disabled cats.

Their story is more about respect. Respect for each other, human and feline, in all our marvelous diversity of peculiarities and frailties. Respect for the primal, survivor, predatory traits that we share. Respect for that which compels us to leaps of faith, that "stuff" that moves us forward when the odds may otherwise be stacked against us.

Homer is Gwen's eyeless mirror. He couldn't sit and stare, but he sure as heck made himself known in other ways.

A well-written memoir, each chapter prefaced by a quote from that other Homer's Odyssey, Gwen Cooper gives us not just another cat story, but a reflective look at what makes us uniquely human, as well as what makes a cat uniquely feline.

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