Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Book Review: Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper

Years ago, my husband Jordan read and loved Homer's Odyssey, Gwen Cooper's memoir about living with her cat, Homer the Blind Wonder-Cat. So when I saw this novel by the same author, again about a cat, in a Buy 2-Get 1 Free sale, I picked it up. I was looking for a distracting novel that wasn't overly sad, wasn't about a romantic relationship, and wasn't enormous. This fit the bill along with a high Goodreads rating, which made it an easy decision.

And in a way it is about a romantic relationship, as Sarah is most definitely in love with New York City. She moved to the city the minute she graduated from high school at 17 to live with her best friend, Anise, who she'd met at a Lower East Side vintage store called Love Saves the Day. Anise joins a rock and roll band and becomes very successful, while Sarah marries young, has a daughter, Laura, and quickly gets divorced. Sarah sets aside her own rock and roll dreams and instead finagles opening a record store which allows her to be around the music she loves, and have a flexible schedule and be her own boss, so she can be a great single mom.

But this back story isn't revealed right away. We start out with an older Sarah living alone in a run-down apartment, with her cat Prudence. Prudence is mostly our narrator (I wish she could have been our 100% narrator but I see how that would have been quite tricky in a few places.) Sarah found her as a soaking wet kitten in an empty lot, and say the Beatles song "Hey Prudence" to get her to come out. Sarah works as a typist in a legal office, Anise still comes over a fair amount, and while her life is small and quiet, she's fairly happy. Except that her daughter Laura is difficult with her. Something happened in their past that was brutal and scarring and changed their relationship forever. Laura does come over to visit monthly, but it's very obviously reluctant and resentful, and neither woman is able to bring themselves to discuss the hurt feelings and the past.

And then Sarah dies. And it's too late. She stated in her will very clearly that she wanted Laura to take Prudence, so the tabby cat moves to the Upper West Side with Laura and her husband Josh in their high-rise apartment, and she tries to sort out what's happened and if she's okay with this new living arrangement. And she spends a lot of time remembering Sarah, waiting for Sarah to return, and nestling in Sarah's things in the spare room.

Prudence is kind of oblivious to what's going on with her humans, except as it impacts her, but eventually she does break down Laura's barriers, and we readers also get to know more of what's happening in the human lives (the chapters occasionally switch to be Laura-, and later Sarah-focused, third-person). This story is so imbued with New York that it literally couldn't take place anywhere else. The horrible thing in the past isn't an everyday thing, not experienced by many people, but I think everyone can relate to it (and it's based in history--Ms. Cooper includes details in the endnotes about the real event.) And more likely, everyone can relate to the emotional aftermath. And the silence that can descend. A silence, a refusal to discuss an event that becomes almost A Law in a relationship, and can feel inviolable.

I don't know if I've ever read a book before that deals with the so-common situation of a person dying without having resolved everything in their relationships, and how the survivors might be able to come to resolution themselves down the road. That's a really important topic that more books should tackle. And how animals can not only provide comfort, but can even bring us emotional health. And yes, I read this mostly with my cat Turkey snuggled up against my leg.

I bought this book at a Barnes & Noble.

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