A version of this post was previously published as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers (April 12, 2013). Shelf Awareness provided a galley of the book (via the publisher) and compensation for the review.
Opening lines: “Her cage was in the upper corner of the room. There were three rows of cages, and many of the cats, when they saw us coming, jumped out of their tubs, stretched their paws through the diamonds formed by the criss-crossed wires, and meowed at us.
“I remember how drawn my son was to those cats, the ones who wailed for our love.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website
Single mother Elise is completely devoted to her eleven-year-old son; he is her whole world. But that world is destroyed in one terrifying moment when her son is killed in a car accident just outside their home. Suddenly alone, surrounded by memories, Elise faces a future that feels unspeakably bleak—and pointless.
Lost, angry, and desolate, Elise rejects everyone who tries to reach out to her. But as despair threatens to engulf her, she realizes, to her horror, that she cannot join her son: She must take care of his beloved cat. At first she attempts to carry out this task entirely by herself, shut away from a frightening new reality that seems surreal and incomprehensible. But isolation proves to be impossible, and before long others insinuate themselves into her life—friends, enemies, colleagues, neighbors, a former lover—bringing with them the fragile beginnings of survival.
Comments: The relative brevity of The Cat, Edeet Ravel’s fictional exploration of a mother’s grief, by no means blunts its emotional impact.
Elise’s son has been the most important thing in her life since the day he was born. When she suddenly loses him in a tragic accident just outside the home they share, she struggles to find any reason to go on living without him. But one waits, literally, at her feet: the boy’s beloved cat, Pursie. The fact that there’s still someone on earth whose life depends on her pushes Elise forward, however reluctantly, through the days and weeks after her son’s death.
However, don’t let the title mislead you into thinking that this is yet another a human/animal bonding story; in fact, the relationship between woman and feline is less central to the novel then its title would suggest. As Elise documents her journey through the aftermath of losing her son, it’s apparent that she’s at least as resentful of Pursie’s need for her as she is grateful for it; like most of her relationships with anyone other than her son, this one is difficult and not entirely satisfying. I found Elise’s habit of not referring to her deceased child other than as “he” or “my son” was also less than satisfying, but I came to appreciate it as a telling detail; distancing, and yet perhaps indicative of the depth of a mother’s pain in that she cannot bring herself to use her dead son’s name.