Category: General fiction; women’s fiction
Publisher: Bantam, 2013
Book Source: Publisher ARC won in Goodreads giveaway
When five-week-old [kitten] Prudence meets a woman named Sarah in a deserted construction site on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, she knows she’s found the human she was meant to adopt. For three years their lives are filled with laughter, tuna, catnaps, music, and the unchanging routines Prudence craves. Then one day Sarah doesn’t come home. From Prudence’s perch on the windowsill she sees Laura, the daughter who hardly ever comes to visit Sarah, arrive with her new husband. They’re carrying boxes. Before they even get to the front door, Prudence realizes that her life has changed forever.
Suddenly Prudence finds herself living in a strange apartment with humans she barely knows. It could take years to train them in the feline courtesies and customs (for example, a cat should always be fed before the humans, and at the same exact time every day) that Sarah understood so well. Prudence clings to the hope that Sarah will come back for her while Laura, a rising young corporate attorney, tries to push away memories of her mother and the tumultuous childhood spent in her mother’s dusty downtown record store. But the secret joys, past hurts, and life-changing moments that make every mother-daughter relationship special will come to the surface. With Prudence’s help Laura will learn that the past, like a mother’s love, never dies.
I absolutely loved Gwen Cooper’s first novel, Love Saves the Day. To be honest, when I read that one of the main characters was a cat, I was expecting something cute or overly sweet, but this book is neither. It’s warm and down-to-earth and sometimes heart-wrenching, and the characters, even Prudence the cat – no, especially Prudence – are completely real and believable.
The narrative jumps back and forth between three points of view and almost thirty years of living. Prudence and Sarah tell their stories in their own words, while the sections about Laura – arguably the main character – are told in third person limited. Prudence’s voice is perfect (I’m tempted to say “purrfect”.) Cooper has captured exactly how I imagine a cat would think and talk, if they could. That’s probably not surprising, given that her first book was Homer’s Odyssey, the story of her blind cat. (I reviewed it here.)
Sarah’s narration partway through the book came as a surprise, because you realize quite quickly that Sarah is dead; how Prudence and Laura deal with her death are two of the central elements of the book. But Sarah narrates not in the present, as a ghost, but from the past, which works surprisingly well. The sections focusing on Laura are equally well-written, and the third-person viewpoint emphasizes the distance Laura kept between herself and Sarah, and then Prudence.
The secondary characters are just as believable, though not as thoroughly fleshed out as Prudence, Laura, and Sarah. I really liked Laura’s husband Josh, who is a good partner for her. Their marriage is strong, but not idyllic; they argue realistically, and his job loss and her long hours take a noticeable toll. Free-spirited rocker Anise, Sarah’s best friend, appears in person only toward the end, but she’s a significant presence in both Sarah and Prudence’s memories.
It’s not just the characters that are well-drawn. Cooper expertly evokes New York, particularly the Lower East Side, Laura’s childhood home. Reading the book, the sights, sounds, and even smells of the city came alive. They provide a vivid backdrop to the novel’s theme of grief, anger, love, and healing.
I loved the time I spent with Prudence, Sarah, and Laura. Love Saves the Day is a keeper.
Rating: 5 stars