Aug 21, 2017

One-Eyed Cat

by Paula Fox

An old paperback on my shelf that I know I read once when I was a kid, but remembered almost nothing about. Decided to re-read it yesterday.

It takes place in the years just after the Great Depression- times are still rather hard, pleasures are simple. The main character, an eleven-year-old boy named Ned, enjoys walking in the woods and spends a lot of time at home. His father is parson in their small town, his mother is practically bed-ridden with a debilitating illness, and their housekeeper has a sharp tongue and airs of self-importance. Ned tries to please his father, worries about his mother, and usually avoids the housekeeper. He walks to school with his friends, sometimes squabbling with the other boys. He does chores and errands for an elderly man next door, slowly building up a friendship.

Then his visiting uncle gives him an air rifle for his birthday. Ned is eager to try it out on tin cans but his father disapproves of the gift and makes him put it away in the attic until he is older. Ned has always been obedient, but now he sneaks upstairs in the middle of the night and takes the gun outside. He just wants to handle it once; then promises to himself he'll put it away again. But he sees a shadow move by the corner of a building and takes a shot. Coming home again, he thinks he glimpses a face in an upstairs window- did someone see him? hear the shot? who was it? He feels guilty, but it's so much worse when later at the old man's house he sees a dirty, thin cat in the yard- with a missing eye. Ned is convinced he's responsible for the cat's injury. It is too wild to bring indoors but with the old man he tries to care for it- leaving out food, providing shelter. He worries what will happen to the cat when winter comes. Over the next eight months, guilt slowly eats away at him. His thoughts of the cat and his fault color everything around him, and he learns how hard it is to hold up a lie, when you don't know who might really know the truth...

This is a solemn story full of calm detail about relationships, the beauty of life, and the finality of death. The descriptions of the landscape, how people think and feel, are full of clarity. The ending feels a bit -flat- there's no huge resolution- just a few quiet conversations that maybe straighten things out, a glimpse of the cat that suggests to Ned how it might be doing- but he never is really sure. Life is like that, sometimes.

Rating: 3/5               216 pages, 1984

2 comments:

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like a sweet, thoughtful book. I think my mom might like it.

Thistle said...

Agreed with the other comment that it sounds really thoughtful. I'll keep my eye out for it, though I keep telling myself no new books... my Kindle has 230+ unread books on it!