On Cats, Love, and Marriage
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A rambling depiction of a troubled love affair between a couple and their cats.

Trachtenberg (The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and its Meaning, 2008, etc.) begins with a disclaimer that this memoir “is based on real people…[but] also contains an artifact, an incident or detail that originates solely in my imagination,” which he included “out of curiosity about the nature of nonfiction and its tolerance for admixture or adulteration.” The author warns that he questions whether the memories he is writing about are real and admits that his wife disputes his account. “About my cat and the self I am with her I have fewer doubts.” The author and his wife—novelist Mary Gaitskill, referred to throughout the memoir as “F.”—married shortly after 9/11 and moved to a town north of New York City, where they and their cats could enjoy the rural environment. In 2008, Trachtenberg was teaching creative writing in a college in North Carolina while his wife attended an artist's residency in Italy. The cat sitter they hired to look after their collection of cats lost track of Biscuit, and he went missing. The narrative thread of the book is built on the author's decision to fly home and join the search for Biscuit, with flashbacks to other cats in their life intermixed with incidents in his courtship and subsequent married life. Trachtenberg paints a picture of his wife as a socially maladroit woman who courted rejection and had been cruelly bullied in her youth. He writes that he was drawn to her personality, which he found catlike: elusive and inscrutable. Despite the strains in their relationship—her deep depression after the death of another cat, his career problems and failure to be self-supporting, and more—the author reports surprise when his wife told him she wanted a separation. Ultimately, they reconciled, and Biscuit was found.

A detailed but superficial account of a series of events related by an unreliable narrator.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7382-1526-6
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Da Capo
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2012


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