Book Club: ‘The Cat Guest’ and ‘Go Set a Watchman’

Last weekend, Fitz planted himself on the couch just like so and in between naps, devoured The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide — a must read according to his friends in the building. He gave it two paws up before he feel asleep for his 8AM nap and said he’d share the rest of his review with me when he woke up.

That was a day and a half ago so here’s a review from someone with thumbs.

In the nonfiction short (150 pages, the perfect subway length), the Japanese poet Hiraide tells his story of observing, and eventually befriending, a neighborhood cat who not only moves into the tiny Tokyo cottage he shares with his wife, but completely rearranges their lives. The poet writes about the full pet life cycle and how upon their passing, we as humans mourn our furry friends as we would a family member. As a cat mum, it reminded me how pets can turn tiny moments into something so special. This book was a refreshing read and very different from the other novels I’ve consumed recently. In my opinion, if you’re a pet parent, this book is a great, and quick, vacation or train companion.

***

go-set-a-watchmen

If the The Cat Guest was all the best things, Go Set a Watchman was all the … other … things.

I am one of millions who have spent their literary careers crushing on Atticus Finch, the extraordinary father and upholder of justice. So it was a bit of a shock to meet an elderly, and inherently racist Atticus in this new novel set 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman starts with Scout taking the train from her home in New York City to visit to ailing father, kind-of-sort-of boyfriend, and the familiar haunts of her old town. But upon arriving, Scout discovers how everything has changed — her father has joined a council working to uphold segregation, her childhood home is an ice cream stand — and goes through a mourning for a relationship and place that had once been the center of her world. The book is a coming of age story that ends with the idea of accepting the flaws of others while learning to stand on our own two feet. Bringing it all together, setting your own watchman to seek justice and truth.

What Harper Lee does a great job of is mirroring the reader’s disbelief about racist Atticus through Scout’s breakdown so that the main character and the audience are simultaneously and identically reacting to this new information. What could have been done better was the proportions of the novel. 90 percent of the book is Scout’s internal meltdown over Atticus and then suddenly, the last five pages wrap up the conflict? It doesn’t quite work. It’s also unique to remember that Lee wrote this book before To Kill a Mockingbird but decided to never publish it, leaving me to wonder, was the tearing down of Atticus’ god-like figure a decision made later in writing? And without its companion, would Go Set a Watchman be a more prized text?

 

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