Tuesday, August 25, 2009

a review of "Homer's Odyssey"

Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper (Delacorte Press, ISBN 978-0-385-34385-5)

Let me preface my review with two points. First of all, I am not a cat person. I have owned a cat, and I mean a real cat, not just my imaginary kitty, Kitty. My cat's name was...well, Kitty. But while she was a fine cat, I am a dog person. Cats can be cute and all, but I like the total adoration only a dog will provide.
Secondly, you may remember my vowing that never again would I review a memoir. Having read just one too many whining, complaining, "it's all me and it's all (insert name here)'s fault" books, I thought that maybe memoirs were just not my cup of tea.
So, when this book arrived, I was not totally hopeful. A memoir...about a cat. Oh, my....

This book then almost ended up unread for other reasons that I may share later and since it overcame this hurdle, much as poor little Homer overcame his, I decided I had to give this book a chance. Well, my dear readers, I was wrong. Yes, my leap to judgment was wrong, which I admit has happen a time or two before, but certainly in this case. Homer's Odyssey is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and would offer with a strong recommendation to my readers.

The cat that would come to be called Homer had a terrible start in life. The two week old kitten was found on the streets, hungry and sick, taken to a vet with such a severe eye infection that the vet had to remove both his eyes to save the cat's life. Then she had to find the now blind kitten a home, which did not prove easy. Her last hope was Ms. Cooper, a patient who already owned 2 cats. Against her better judgment, Ms. Cooper agreed to meet the tiny kitten and the rest was, as they say, kismet.
"You think, when you adopt a pet, that he will become a supporting character in the story of your life. But I was beginning to think I was now a character in this kitten's story."
Indeed, and it is a good story.

It may seem a bit silly to say, but Ms. Cooper was to find that she could learn a great deal from the example of how Homer, as she named him after the blind storyteller with an epic journey ahead, faced life.
"The other thing I realized was that, while he seemed loving, he was not scared or desperate to be loved, the way you would expect a kitten-or even a person- who'd experienced nothing but pain, hunger, and fear to be. Nor was he hostile and defensive, a kitten who'd let a hard life stomp all the love right out of him. He was merely curious and affectionate."
And able to win over, with his bravely and sweetness and inquisitiveness many a cold hearted disbeliever who doubted that a blind cat could survive yet alone thrive.

Of course, it is also the story of Gwen Cooper, and with Homer and his feline "sisters" Vashti and Scarlett tagging along, it is a good story. We follow her from Miami, changing jobs, changing careers, moving in with her parents, moving to New York City, looking for love. And she shares with us, in what I think are the best chapters, the details of her experiences living and working just blocks from the World Trade Center during 9-11. Very movingly shares with us.

Ms. Cooper is a very good writer, and again, while it may sounds a wee bit silly, her ability to 'voice' what her cats are thinking is always entertaining, as is that Greek chorus that lives in her head. While the book is filled with a number of very well portrayed 'characters' including her friends and parents and the man who becomes her husband, not to mention those two other felines housemates, without question the star of the story is Homer and his many exploits.
" "Eres mucho gato, Homer" I whispered. "Thou art plenty of cat.""
as Gwen tells him after he saves her life. Yes, saves her life, and I do not mean in some figurative way. I mean he really saves her life. Wait, maybe that was my favorite chapter....

Actually, I had many favorite chapters in this charming book, some very funny, some very sad but all very well written and very engaging. A rare book that I read straight through, sleep and housework be damned. Yes, I will admit it. Maybe we can even learn things from a cat. To quote Ms. Cooper,
"It was Homer, I realized, who had brought me most of the insights I'd acquired about relationships over the past few years. It was Homer who had taught me that the love of one person who believes in you-and whom you believed in- could inspire you to attempt even the most improbable things...Homer was living proof that dark predictions about potential happiness were nothing more than an opportunity to prove all conventional wisdom wrong."
As this book proves wrong my prejudice about memoirs...even memoirs with cats.

As an aside, let me explain my comment about this book being one that I almost did not read. And not just the cat and memoir thing either. Due to a miscommunication, the package this book came in sat out in the pouring rain for several days. I arrived home to a sodden, swollen brick of pages and almost put it in the trash. I didn't only because there was water pouring off of it and I was afraid the bag would leak. So, I put it outside, under an overhang, and forgot it for weeks. Imagine my surprise to find a dry book that was wrinkled and a bit swollen but totally readable. Wow, those trade paperbacks are way tougher than one would think. If a book survives that, then just like Homer, it deserves a chance!
And this book, the delightful Homer's Odyssey, deserves you to read it.

Thanks to Random House for this ARC.

Available From Amazon


  1. I'm a memoir junkie and I love stories about animals, so I think this book must have been written just for me. I can't wait to read it.

  2. I can't but think you'll love it. I mean, even I liked it! ;-)

  3. Well, as you may know, I am a cat lover, so you wouldn't have to twist my arm to read this one. Dewey reduced me to a puddle of goo. I hope this cat doesn't die in the end! Please tell me he doesn't. I just couldn't take it. So glad Homer wasn't soiled by the rain and was able to brighten your day!

  4. This is NOT a spoiler--the cat does NOT die! Nothing sad happens! Theres a video of Gwen and kitty on Amazon when you go to the book's page.

  5. Oh no, did I imply the cat died? NO, the cat is not dead.

    now, no doubt he will die someday but as far as I know, he is just fine, although there is an incident....lol

  6. Caite...I just read/reviewed this one too. Glad I read this one.

  7. I reviewed this a couple of weeks ago....absolutely loved it and was so glad that I read it! :)

  8. we all agree! it is one to read!

  9. I'm happy to hear that Homer (and the author!)provided you with a different perspective on cats. I'm happy to read that you enjoyed the book. I haven't read it yet, but I have read several interviews with the author and articles about the book. It doesn't sound like a whiney memoir!
    Every cat is different, they are quite individual. I have my own Homer, she started out her young life much the same way as Homer and we found her in a similar state to Homer. Like Homer, she's seems a little more special.
    I love dogs too. I think they're great and very lovable!
    Thank you for a wonderful review!

  10. i think i could have a memoir too! day one: mom took me to sonic...

  11. Bandit, I am sure you would agree with Amy, dogs are great and lovable...but not every dog needs a memoir.

  12. my life is very interesting!! i am about to call penguin as we speak!!

  13. Sounds like another winner to add to my TBR list. I like the story of how this book almost went unread and I admire you for admitting that your first impressions were incorrect. It takes a strong person to admit that! : )

  14. I am often wrong and will happily admit it. Especially where books are concerned.


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