Cats really are the center of the universe, and Prudence is sure of this even as her little universe changes dramatically from the very first paragraph of the book to the last. The world changes pretty dramatically for the humans in her life as well, beginning with lives apart and lives falling apart, but as the story unfolds in present and flashback over decades all the parts and all the people tangle together to create a complete and loving resolution.
Beginning in the voice of Prudence, rescued as a tiny abandoned kitten from a construction site, we are dropped in the middle of a crisis for Prudence—Sarah, her human rescuer and the only human she’s trusted for the three years of her life she’s spent in Sarah’s apartment, has not come home for days. As Prudence passes the time waiting for Sarah to return she muses on her life with Sarah and on Sarah’s things, and we are introduced to the perspective of a cat on the world around her, a cat’s particular combination of attention to physical objects and physical space and anticipated daily events, the importance of sensual experiences like scent and sound, and her deep focus on the one person who means most in her life. Prudence’s reminiscences and descriptions of her space and her life through her own emotional and sensual experience, her intuitive sense and her awareness of body language in humans give us details we might not know without her feline perspective, and we can begin building the story from the inside out.
While Prudence fully intends to wait for Sarah’s return among the familiar sights and sounds and smells of their apartment, soon we meet Laura, Sarah’s distant daughter, and Laura’s husband Josh, as they arrive at Sarah’s apartment with the intent to pack up both Prudence and Sarah’s things, and we learn that Sarah is not returning. Laura tries to befriend Prudence, and we begin to hear narration from Laura’s and Sarah’s perspectives as well as the story continues.
From the beginning of the story to the end life in New York is essential to the story, both in the city and in Manhattan’s Lower East Side where Laura grew up with Sarah, and the themes of music and musicians and the creative life in what had seemed like a slum to others and a dangerous place to live, but was a diverse and loving family to a single mother and her daughter. It includes names and events of the music scene of the 1970s in Lower Manhattan and works the actual circumstance of a building on the Lower East Side hurriedly evacuated and demolished in 1998 into the story as a pivotal event.
Also, Sarah had owned a music store, buying and selling vinyl recordings, central to the life of the neighborhood and introducing both Laura and us to music of the era and from previous decades. The presence of music runs through the entire story, from Prudence’s name as Sarah sings the Beatles’s Dear Prudence to the abandoned kitten, to Prudence’s love of the boxes of vinyl albums that had Sarah’s smell all over them, and later Josh’s love of those same albums and an action he is inspired to take through them that changes both his and Laura’s life.
And while Prudence is a cat speaking in a human’s voice, Cooper has captured Prudence’s feline sensibilities and interprets them clearly, including the fact that Prudence was rescued and was likely feral which gives a cat a less trusting perspective on humans and their motives than the average cat, and Prudence’s analysis of the activities around her are important to understanding the stories of all the human characters. The distance Prudence keeps between herself and Laura and Josh, and Prudence’s long and slow journey toward trust and love parallels Laura’s own journey with her mother and the metamorphosis of other human relationships in the story. As Prudence clings to every last whiff of hers and Sarah’s scents mingled on Sarah’s possessions, waiting for life to return to what it was, so Laura holds on to the distance she created with her mother and the life she has created, but life carries us along and both have to make the choice to let go and evolve or hold onto their abandonment and live, isolated, in the past.
There are also very comical moments in Prudence’s interpretation of events around her and what she hears in conversations among people, and uses feline logic and metaphors to try to decipher what they mean. Overhearing a conversation between Josh and Laura about a corporate layoff she hears the company was “gutted”, and plans of going to a “headhunter” to search for another job. This was very puzzling to Prudence as “gutting” a mouse is getting to the good part, and you usually left the head behind because it wasn’t very good to eat so why would someone be hunting for heads? It seems these humans have something to learn about hunting.
Then there was the seder meal turned into a disaster because a most important feline rule had not been followed—all that good food, and the humans forgot to feed Prudence first and she had to take things into her own paws.
Though begun from the perspective of a cat and highly sentimental and very humorous, there are some very real and painful moments in the novel, and the themes of abandonment and broken hearts is central to the story. As bits and pieces of the story come in from Prudence and Laura and Sarah and current and past events throughout the novel and begin to fit together, it’s a satisfyingly complicated tale.
And as many of us know, love does save the day when you share your life with a rescued cat, for both the cat and the human, changing both forever.
I listened to Love Saves the Day in a recorded edition, read by Cris Dukehart, who did an incredible job of interpreting Prudence’s voice, literally. From prim and proper to frightened to eye-rolling sarcastic, she gave Prudence a presence I thoroughly enjoyed and still can hear when I think of the book. Of course, she did an admirable job with the humans too, and that’s no small feat when you are presenting multiple characters, often all in one paragraph, and one of them is not human.
Gwen Cooper’s Love Saves the Day book tour continues in 2014 highlighting that “animal welfare is ultimately about human welfare”. More about Love Saves the Day can be found on her website, and you can follow the links to purchase the book on that page as well.
And you can read advice from Prudence herself in Prudence’s own column on the Huffington Post, cleverly translated by Gwen, of course, “Dear Prudence (the Advice Cat): Advice for Cat Lovers from a Cat’s Point of View”.
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Also read my review of Homer’s Odyssey and other book reviews.
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