Five Pet Cats in Modern Fiction

And you won’t believe what happens to the third one

Yes, it's a listicle – a listicle of books! Because, after you finish consuming this post and all the rest of the content we’ve provided for the Chronicle’s Pet Issue, the first thing you’ll want to do is grab a thick chunk of dead-tree media and keep on reading, right?

But, you know, fuck it: You love reading and you love cats – or you probably wouldn’t be parsing this sentence. So here are five felines from works of modern literature that you might have missed:

1) There’s that Jonas, of course, from Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In the Castle – which creepy narrative is, btw, soon to exist as a movie, too. The varmint himself doesn’t do much, really, except to serve as a familiar to and foil for the unforgettable protagonist Merricat Blackwood. The imminent film production might not do much, either, except to serve as a cinematic crutch for those unable to inhabit the brilliant Jackson’s tale by deciphering glyphs on paper. We mean: You really should read this darkling gem of a book, dear one, especially if you have a thirst for witchy outsiders and poison-borne parricide. Or … would you like a cup of tea?

2) Bubastis is little more than window dressing, too – but when you’re the genetically modified lynx belonging to the character Ozymandias in Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ seminal graphic novel Watchmen, the window that you’re helping dress provides such a simultaneously phantasmagoric and intimate view of mythos-wrenching dystopia that it doesn’t matter who’s locked in there with whom. Don’t you agree, Mr. Kovacs? Please, don’t say “No,” or we’ll make you watch the cinematic adaptation that Zack Snyder insulted the source material with.

3) We weren’t just mocking clickbait subheads when we said you wouldn’t believe what happens to this one. Because Bud, the unfortunate kitty that’s thrust into the possession of initially hapless Hank Thompson in Charlie Huston’s debut novel Caught Stealing? The first cat in this list that’s deeply integral to the plot? Oh, shit. That poor Bud, wrong place at the wrong time, gets wrangled and mangled and tortured and torn by circumstances involving homicidal Russian mobsters – and gets literally tortured, by the most thuggish of those mafiosi – until you’re sure that the broken varmint’s gonna give up the ghost even before the protagonist is killed. But does he? And is the protagonist killed, after all? Reader, we advise that you order a copy of this fierce thing, stat, and see for yourself.

4) Sardanapalus. Yeah, how’s that for a cat’s name? And of course the man responsible for thus burdening a character’s pet is our old friend Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger – aka novelist Felix C. Forrest – aka the godson of Sun Yat-Sen – aka the Father of Modern Psychological Warfare – aka the under-celebrated science-fiction genius Cordwainer Smith. Never mind the girlygirl C’Mell – the human/cat hybrid from Smith’s immense Instrumentality of Mankind future history – this Sardanapalus is an actual cat owned by one Ria Regardie Browne in Ria, the realist coming-of-age novel of European intrigue and emotional treachery and wracked memory that our late, great fabulist wrote back in 1947.

5) Debbie. Oh, let’s talk about Debbie, the cat in the apartment next door to Catherine, the first-person narrator of Beth Nugent’s Live Girls. Let’s talk about how the cat’s slowly dying, her owner either so clueless or mentally ruptured that he’s going to let her, the cat, Debbie, die. Let’s talk about how, reading Nugent’s book, we feel kind of like that cat must feel, because the story’s atmosphere is as bleak as the writing is masterful, and it’s one of the bleakest fucking things we’ve ever read. We’ve never been able to finish the story, actually, have never gotten more than two-thirds through that Live Girls with its commensurately bleak Chip Kidd cover design; but we’ve gotten at least that far three separate times now, and we’re going to keep reading the book, over and over, feeling a sort of comfort, almost, at the familiar bleakness and the stark urban tableau of quotidian misery the author relates so well. And eventually we’ll read it all the way through, eventually we’ll do that, and then maybe we can stop thinking about that poor dying cat crouched weakly over its water bowl in the apartment next door.

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