October 15, 2014

Review: The Story of Fester Cat

The Story of Fester Cat
The Story of Fester Cat by Paul Magrs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Story of Fester Cat opens with a devastating bang, as not long after we're first introduced to Fester and his funny, mellow, kind cat's voice, and to Paul and Jeremy, the 30-something gay couple who Fester mutually adopts, Fester is euthanized due to old age and at least one terrible stroke. Magrs writes this painful moment with beautiful, wise, poetic intensity, so expressive that it made me sob helplessly, remembering all the cats I've loved in my life. It reminded me how every pet we bring into our lives is a tragedy in waiting, and still we reach out to love these magnificent miniature tigers because they give so much in return.

Really, I was so wiped out by the gorgeousness of this death scene that I took a break for a few days, worried that the remainder of the book would be equally as heartbreaking.

I needn't have worried -- with the tragedy out of the way and recognized and endured, the rest of Fester Cat's imagined autobiography is quite a lark in comparison to that opening cymbal crash of emotion.

The telling of the last third of Fester's life, from when the homey couple accept Fester into their cozy lives to when Fester gets dotty in his age and passes away, are written entirely from Fester's POV, in charming, funny, and warm Northern English vernacular. This neat trick of one-step removal, writing about his own life from Fester's perceptions, allows Margs to gently retell the quiet dramas going on in his and Jeremy's cluttered home. It's all very sweet and pleasantly enjoyable, even when any of the three boys gets worked up about some issue, big or small. They all keep coming back together with love and affection, building familiar routines around one another. It's an enviable life with Fester in the house and garden, and Fester is a deserving, lovely soul with whom to spend time.

The entire ecosystem of the neighborhood is portrayed quite wonderfully through Fester's senses, too: all the other barmy cats about, the squirrels and birds and frogs and mice and strange human neighbors teetering out of windows, visiting for Sunday lunch, or poking at Fester at the suspiciously medical "hairdresser's". Paul and Jeremy are nicely delineated and characterized, honestly if a tad beatifically, and the intricacies of their relationship and the love that binds them are delicately explored by the fuzzy cat who shares their life and bed.

My favorite bit is the notion that "the galaxy rhymes," a way of paying attention to they mysterious synchronicities that ricochet constantly around us, appreciating coincidence and fascinating echoes of existence, without getting religious or mystical about it.

The Story of Fester Cat almost lost a star in rating, though, because of the very unnecessary Afterword, which is written from Paul's point-of-view. It is a retread, adding nothing of importance that readers hadn't already heard or gleaned from Fester's take. It's annoyingly redundant, with almost verbatim summation of what we'd just read, and I recommend skipping it entirely.

For it is Fester's voice, his sweet and sensitive loving perceptions, that is the shining light of this heartfelt and witty book. It was a pleasure to spend time with such a special -- and so typically, deeply familiar -- cat.

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