“Homer’s Odyssey,” by Gwen Cooper

June 25, 2010 Uncategorized 0

Category: Memoir; animal story
Book source: Public library

Pet memoirs tend to fall into two categories: heartwarming and heartbreaking. Gwen Cooper’s Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat is unabashedly the former.  Gwen Cooper was newly single, living in a friend’s house, and already the owner of two cats — three good reasons to say “No” when her vet called to ask her to take on a blind kitten.  Fortunately for both Gwen and Homer, she agreed to meet the kitten.  She was lost the instant he snuggled into her neck and began to purr.

Life with a blind cat has its challenges.  You would think that life as a blind cat would also have its challenges, but Homer doesn’t perceive it that way.  Having lost his eyes to a serious infection before they opened (kittens’ eyes remain shut for several weeks after birth), Homer is unaware that he has any limitations.  Each time Cooper moves, Homer explores his new environment, quickly learning how to find his way around.  As the subtitle states, Homer is fearless, climbing and jumping as well or better than a sighted cat once he has located and memorized the placement of furniture.  His hearing is extraordinary, and he is even able to catch flies in midair.  Nonetheless, there are safety issues: balconies, open windows and doors, and the toilet all pose hazards Homer is unable to appreciate.  Cooper goes to great lengths to allow Homer freedom and independence without risking his health and safety.

Cooper affectionately describes each of her cats’ personalities and how they learned to interact, but it is clearly Homer who is the focus of both this memoir and her life.  Faced with the responsibility to make a home for her cats, Cooper moves back in with her parents while she repositions herself in PR and marketing.  When she moves out on her own after landing a job, Homer and the other cats, Vashti and Scarlett, are primary considerations in choosing an apartment.  Dating takes on a new dimension, as each potential boyfriend has to be assessed not only in terms of Cooper’s own interest but in how well he deals with her cats, particularly Homer. 

Two episodes stand out in Cooper’s narrative: the night Homer saved her from an intruder in her apartment, and the events of September 11, 2001.  Cooper was living within sight of the World Trade Center when the planes slammed into the towers.  She spent several days frantically trying to get back into the evacuated area to rescue her cats.

Many people would say that Homer was lucky to have found a home with Cooper.  What is equally true is that Cooper was lucky to encounter Homer, who has had a profound effect on her life.  She works hard to incorporate Homer’s optimism, tenacity, and fearlessness into her own outlook. 

The last few chapters of the book deal with Cooper’s growing relationship and eventual marriage to the man she loves.  This is the weakest section of the book.  Cooper glosses over the difficulties Homer and the other cats have in adjusting to life with Laurence.  Fearless little Homer is afraid of Laurence’s big, booming voice.  The cat who has always slept next to “Mommy” all night is no longer allowed to sleep in the bedroom with her, which distresses him dreadfully.  Slowly, however, the cats and Laurence come to terms with each other.  When Cooper calls to tell Laurence that Homer is ill, Laurence comes immediately to the vet’s office.  “He’s my cat too,” he states quietly.

Most pet memoirs, even the heartwarming ones (Marley and Me; Dewey) end with the death of the pet.  Fortunately for readers, Homer was still living when Cooper wrote “Homer’s Odyssey.”  The memoir thus ends on a hopeful note, entirely appropriate to the spirit of this tiny but indomitable cat.

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