Yesterday I read two books—one was a manuscript, a dark noir novella about drugs and dealers and addicts and life in post-Katrina New Orleans. It was well done, and I was driven to read to the end. But I needed something sweet to get blackness out of my brain (I'm not generally a fan of noir). I picked up a small book that had been challenging me from my desk for a couple of weeks—Anne Kaier's Home with Henry.
Written as a journal, it chronicles her experience finding a wounded cat in a busy road, rescuing it, and then taking it home. Taming a one-year-old feral cat is neither easy nor quick, but Kaier was smart. She let the cat live under the bed in her guest room for a long time. Gradually, she got him to eat out of her hand, and then she began to leave the door open so he could come out of the room—at first he went only as far as the guest bedroom but eventually she began to see signs he'd been wandering the house. And long story short, he settled comfortably in, so much so that she was afraid the cat she'd had for ten years felt cast aside.
Several themes here resonated with me. Kaier, a single woman of fifty, had a dread of being alone. First Lucille, the older cat, and then Henry gave her a sense of companionship, a creature to love and talk to. I am so familiar with those feelings—Sophie, as I've written in a blog, shapes my days, and I live by her schedule.
Kaier, single and never married, longed for children. She often had her ten-year-old nephew, Tommy, as an overnight guest, occasions that made her both glad for his presence and nostalgic for the children that would never fill her house. I on the other hand raised four wonderful children, as a single parent, and wouldn't trade a minute of it. Now I have seven grandchildren, one of whom spends a lot of time with me. But I realize it's a different bond—not as close as that of a parent and child, and sometimes I long for the days when my babies were young and—sorry—dependent on me.
Kaier weaves in themes of open and closed spaces—she refuses to consider a gated community that a realtor shows her because she doesn't want to be shut in. But at the same time she is obsessively concerned about her cats getting away—it takes a lot for her to let Henry out into her garden, though it is arranged so it only opens to neighbors' gardens (no alley). Still she worries that one or both cats simply won't come in. I am obsessive about Sophie getting out—but then, given the chance, she'll run like the wind, letting whoever is chasing her get just not quite close enough, and then taking off again. She has absolutely no car sense, and I am terrified each time she gets out anywhere except her own safe back yard.
Home with Henry is a study in bonding with wild animals, living as a single, and a lot more. I recommend this small book to anyone who loves cats—or dogs for that matter. The writing is gentle, thoughtful, and honest. Illustrations (line drawings) by Carol Chu add immense charm to the book.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Anne Kaier's essays and poetry have been published in The Gettysburg Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, Referential, and Beauty is a Verb: An Anthology of Poetry, Poetics, and Disability that is on the American Library Association Notable Books list for 2012. She has a Ph.D. from Harvard University, lives in Philadelphia, teaches creative writing and literature at Arcadia University and Rosemont College, and serves on the Fulbright Creative Writing Student Screening Committee. Visit her website.
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