The Cat / Edeet Ravel
Toronto: Penguin Canada, c2012.
This is a very sad story. It is quite wrenching to read, as it deals with the experience of grief. Single mother Elise loses her 11 year old son in a random car accident -- a vehicle veers off the road while he is examining bugs and grasses in front of their home. For Elise, her son was her whole life, and grief swamps her.
Immediately following the event, she considers killing herself, but is brought back to life's responsibilities by their cat, Pursie. Telling herself that her son would have wanted her to care for Pursie, she drags herself through days and weeks of grieving, only leaving the house for food and for library visits, numbing herself by watching videos over and over.
The book follows her trajectory through loss, following her thoughts back to her ex, Neil, and the part he played in their lives -- to her own childhood -- to the wondrous time she spent with her precious, magical son -- to a childhood friend she has lost touch with -- to a university boyfriend who she felt closest to -- her thoughts spin and bounce from topic to topic and we follow them as she stumbles her way through a new kind of life and its new demands.
It is very bleak. It is horrifyingly tragic. And yet the writing is beautiful, poetic, powerful, at times painfully truthful. Ravel seems to capture the minutia of daily life in times of joy and times of great sorrow. Her main character is flawed but justified in her behaviour by her devotion to her son (and throughout the book, he is referred to only as 'my son'). The gentle companionship of a pet, in this case, is more than soothing, it is the only reason Elise has for staying alive and present to her life.
As Elise begins to crawl out of the miasma of grief near the end of the story, she is given hope by reconnection with old friends and old lovers, those who are truly supportive of her despite the years between them. When old flame Fede knocks at the door, demanding to help, she is given the emotional lift she hasn't been able to quite manage on her own. By the time he arrives, we can begin to see a small light in Elise's future, the possibility that she may be able to continue on with a life of her own, without her son in it. But at the same time, this seemed to me to be the saddest part of the book and it brought me to tears in a way that the rest of the raw story didn't.
It was a beautiful, difficult read. Exquisite writing and pacing in the novel remove any traces of emotional manipulation from the story, and there is no misplaced sentimentality, rather, Elise is sensitive to instances of false sentiment and recoils from them. Recommended read, only if you are currently able to take in a recounting of realistic and unadorned grief and loss. It is a powerful book that has a spark of resilience woven into its structure, and gives us, finally, a sense of hope.