Journalist and memoir author Simon (Mad House, 1997) perceptively examines the close relationship between women and cats.
Drawing on her experiences with the much-loved Cyrus, whom she acquired when single and at the start of her writing career, Simon deftly mixes personal anecdotes and interviews with references to mythology and popular culture. She calls Cyrus the “feline barometer” against which she measured herself and her intimates; her tales about living with him complement the cat lore here. Cats play an important role in many women’s relationships with men, Simon demonstrates, describing her own and others’ romances ending because Mr. Wrong disliked or was insensitive to the cats in their lives. Simon herself eventually finds and marries a man who loves cats and (just as important) meets with Cyrus’s approval. She analyzes some stereotypical assumptions, such as the idea that women who collect more cats than they can take care of suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The legendary relation between cats and witchcraft, Simon suggests, may have been fueled by male fears of women’s sexuality (“our most feline feature”) and the ancient belief that cats had psychic powers, which led historically to the demonization of females and felines. She finds the myth of cats as evil creatures with feminine characteristics still perpetuated in comics like Batman, where the superhero contends with the wicked Catwoman. Simon visits women who help feral and abandoned cats; she addresses the issues of feeding, neutering, declawing, and death. She profiles various individuals: the vegetarian who cooks chicken for Missy; the cat who teaches a young and thoughtless college graduate to be a good mother; Rudy and Gigi, who fill their owner’s empty nest after the children leave. Most touching of all is her tribute to the departed Cyrus, her comfort for 16 years and “the perfect companion, so much personality in such a little package.”
Wide-ranging and perfectly pitched: both sensitive and sensible.