The Barnes & Noble Review
Brace yourselves, Norton fans: This is the third and final installment in the saga of the Cat Who Went to Paris (and Italy and Florida and Sag Harbor, Long Island), but I'm here to tell you it's a happy book you won't want to miss -- though I can't promise you won't be crying at the end.
In case you've kept to the dog side of the aisle for too long, Norton, a nine-pound Scottish Fold cat, was decidedly special, perhaps even un-catlike. He kept his human, Peter Gethers, company by walking along a crowded beach for two miles, and would wait in the bushes until Peter was ready to go home. Norton learned how to unlock a bedroom door, persuaded two reluctant Italian cooks to do a book with Peter, and even learned to activate the automatic seat warmer for his side of the car. He also traveled well and happily in a shoulder bag, on planes, boats, and subways, and was always ready to make new friends.
More important, as all pets do, Norton taught his owner about life and love, especially unconditional love, and the pleasures and pains of being involved. He transformed Peter from a self-described insensitive oaf into a man who would do anything, but anything, for his cat.
This part of Norton's life begins when he turns ten, still down-to-earth even though he is recognized on the streets of Paris and receives his own fan notes. Peter does not share this celebrity. In fact, in one of the best stories in the book, Peter and his girlfriend,
Janis, are invited to a celebrity movie premiere to meet someone named Tony only because of their connection to Norton. Ultimately, Norton comes to the post-screening party, receives a royal welcome from the guest of honor, Sir Anthony Hopkins, a Norton fan, and is surrounded by well-wishers. Standing on the sidelines, Peter is approached by Lauren Bacall, who says in that inimitable voice: "I don't know who you are and I don't know why you're here. But if I want to talk to Tony Hopkins, who's an old and dear, dear friend...why do I have to stand in line behind your f***ing cat?"
Though Norton appears to be purring his way into middle age, he develops kidney disease and, later, cancer. Anyone who has ever struggled with the serious illness of a beloved animal will empathize with Peter as he cooks special meals for Norton and administers holistic supplements. Norton's ending is characteristically, full of love, courage, and dignity. Once again, Norton points up the best qualities in animals and one of the special joys in life.
Read an Excerpt
A Cat Rethought
Ever since I made the decision to write this, the third book about my gray, floppy-eared Scottish Fold pal, Norton, I have been trying to decide exactly how to begin.
That very human, very non-cat-like flaw called over-thinking settled in all too quickly, and, as a result, more and more time passed while I sat, stared into space, and didn't type. This book would, I thought, for many reasons, be somewhat different from the others and there were distinct choices that had to be made. Each choice would clearly alter style, tone and philosophy, if I can be pretentious enough to suggest that the books about my cat actually have a philosophy (and, please, don't worry; believe me, I know enough to understand that I'm writing something much closer to Tuesdays With Norton than I am to Meowing and Nothingness).
My first instinct was to begin like this:
One of the reasons I became a writer is because using words the way I do is as close as I can get to putting some kind of order in this rather crazy world of ours.
I was then going to go on and describe that one of the things in life that drives me most crazy is the way the English language is constantly mangled. As always, this is an area in which we should learn from the feline way of doing things. Cats have a way of speaking that is direct and unmistakably clear. Their words might all be the same but the meanings behind them are just a tad less ambiguous than human-speak. There is no mistaking a meow that means "feed me" for one that means "scratch my stomach." Has anyone who has been owned by a cat for any length of time ever confused an "it's nice sitting by the fire" meow for one that says "let me out" or "sorry, there's no way I'm going to the vet?" The answer's no. Of course, not only is cat body language less inhibited than ours, cats tend to speak in commands, which does make life easier, at least for them. The only question I can come up with that a cat might ask is, "Are you okay?" And, if you're not, the follow-up meow is usually another directive: "Here, shove over so I can snuggle up to you and make you feel better." Cats have definitely gotten the act of communication down to an exact science.
But when humans open their mouths, the screw-ups are endless. The constant mis-use of "I" for "me," for example (hint: If you don't wish for me to publicly humiliate you, never say, "Just between you and I" or "Come with Freddy and I" in my presence). And the addition of the word "very" when describing something "unique." That's the same as saying "very one-of-a-kind" which is linguistically impossible. Then there's the fact that no one seems to know what the word "irony" means. It does not mean funny or snide or coincidental or satirical or anything along those lines. If you don't believe me, here's the definition straight from The Random House Dictionary of the English Language: "The use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning." If it's raining outside and you say, "Beautiful day, isn't it," that's irony. And the reason this matters to me is that the title of this book is, to a large extent, meant to be ironic, and it's important to understand that going in. Nothing and no one lives forever. Not plants, not people, and most unfortunate of all, not cats. In some ways, "life" itself is the ultimate ironic word because to live means that, eventually, you'll die. And that realization, that experience and understanding, is partly what this book is about.
But only partly.
I'm mainly trying to convey the feeling and the strength that comes from being in contact with a truly amazing life force.
All of which is a long-winded way of explaining why my first choice for an opening didn't make the final cut. That and the fact that irony is not a concept that cats even understand. And although this book is written for humans, since cats can't read (unfortunately for me; if they could there's a reasonable chance I'd be the richest person on earth!), I didn't think it was appropriate to begin with something that went so against their nature.
A second possibility was to go for pure drama. For a long time, this was my intended first sentence:
On the day I moved into my dream apartment, I found out that my cat had cancer.
I'm sure you can see the value of that. I mean, it's definitely a grabber. And, like everything else I've ever written about Norton, it's true. But ultimately, I rejected that, too. Too sad. Too self pitying. Way too cloyingly sentimental. And definitely not what this book is about. Most certainly not what Norton is about. What you're about to read is, I hope, anything but sad. It is not about illness, it is about health. Rather than the trauma of being sick, it is about the satisfaction and the bonds that arise as we age and learn how to care for each other -- and learn how to accept that caring from others.
Anyone who has read earlier tales of life with Norton can tell you that I will almost always go for the gag -- on paper and in life - -and also that I am not a big fan of fake sentiment (several ex-girlfriends would say I'm also not a fan of real sentiment). But I am a fan of genuine emotion and, luckily for me, rarely is that exclusive of laughter. So in no way is this book depressing. It is, I hope, hilarious and joyful and as life affirming as it's possible to be without turning into a Steven Spielberg movie.
In a way, this rambling and over-thinking has actually done what my two initial openings couldn't possibly do. I did manage to bring some order, not just to this book but to my thought process. And, probably more importantly, I realized that, despite what I wrote earlier, the title is not really ironic.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that in many ways my little gray pal will indeed, live forever. And live exactly the way he'd like to: bringing pleasure and, on occasion, even meaning into other people's lives. I guess that's why, when push came to shove, I realized that what this book really is about is quite simple.
It's about my cat Norton.
Exactly the same as the other two books. And that's why the real opening is as follows:
The wonderful thing about having a relationship with a cat -- one of the many wonderful things about having a relationship with a cat -- is that you never have a clue where that relationship will lead you . . .