Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"A Year of Cats and Dogs" by Margaret Hawkins

In one of my favorite books "Temple of My Familiar" by Alice Walker, a character expresses how whatever kind of knowledge she needs will just come to her. Sometimes water will be knocked over on a piece of paper and viola! that's the info she needed, or she'll just see a book that will reflect where she is or what she needs to learn next.

That is my experience with Margaret Hawkins' "A Year of Cats and Dogs." Much like another favorite, "The Tao of Pooh," "A Year..." is about what happens when a person steps back from trying to make things happens, and in doing so, life just...happens.

The main character is Maryanne, who is soon to be 50 and her long term boyfriend has left her. Maryanne decides to just stop doing. In other words, she quits her job, cooks and spends time with her Dad and her pets. In the process of doing nothing, everything happens. She is offered various free-lance opportunities. She discovers she has the talent to hear what cats and dogs are saying. She volunteers at an animal shelter, then is offered a part time job, then a full time job. She begins a new romance, she deals with a sick father and distant, bitchy sister, is reacquainted with the man who left her, experiences death, loss and a new life and new home. All while doing nothing and cooking comfort food, in which the recipes are included.

Unlike "Eat, Pray, Love" this is not a book about a narcissist with severe mental issues that come across as having lovable quirks, and unlike "Julie and Julia" the food is not meant to wow, but to soothe.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is familiar with Taoism, or Jesus' sermon to "Not worry about tomorrow," to anyone who likes to cook, or enjoys animals, or like me is a fan of "The Dog Whisperer." This could have been chik-lit, but rises above it, while at the same time remaining a fast, fun read.

Here are some of the Sole-full parts.

Page 23: "People were this way too, I thought, either garlic or onion. Some people, under heat, get sweeter; trouble, stress, hardship warms them, makes them more human and breaks down the rough edges. Others just grow bitter."

Page 24 "At this point I usually add wine. I pour the wine into a glass first and drink about half and pour the rest into a pot, wishing cheers to the soup. Then I repeat. When I do this the soup assumes the role of companion and collaborator, albeit one who will ultimately be eaten."

Page 101: to an abused dog is about to be put down because it can't be rehabilitated. "'You are loved,' I said quietly to the smelly little dog that at least had stopped growling."

Page 103-104: "Death makes us crave company and food...The living eat, the dying don't; at the time it seemed as simple as that and maybe it always is."

Page 134-135: Clement, the cat, overhears Maryanne's conversation with a man who may have cancer. "Clement, who'd been listening the whole time, blinked slowly at Bob and then walked off. 'No one is ready for death and yet it awaits us all,' I could hear him say as he departed from the basement to contemplate the floor drain."

Page 191, Maryanne's dog, Bob, is present as her father is slowly dying. He asks her (telepathically) if Stan, the vet and Maryanne's new boyfriend, can put him down like he does to cats and dogs. "We don't do it to people," Maryanne tells him. "Poor people," he said, settling his big head gloomily upon his paws.

Page 207: the closing line of the book: "...and I knew that we, despite all we'd lost, were home again."

1 comment:

the book stops here said...

What a gorgeous review, tying together all the earthly and spiritual aspects of this novel. I also thought your use of excerpts did much to bring home the richness of Maggie Hawkins' writing.

We've had a host of excellent advance reviews for A Year of Cats and Dogs (including one from an online animal magazine, www.ourplacetopaws.com), praising it on many levels, but none better or more encompassing than yours.

In our 31 years history, we've never have had a review in a Pastoral site, so this was particularly welcome. Not to mention that it's always a treat to "meet" someone who shares our aesthetics and whose range of interests, readings, and references is so wide ranging.

Many thanks.

Martin Shepard, co-publisher, The Permanent Press (www.thepermanentpress.com)