Sunday, March 20, 2011

Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

I admit it: I’m a bleeding heart for animals, and Homer’s Odyssey made me laugh, cry and hug my cat. The premise may seem cliché—handicapped pet wins the hearts of everyone he meets—but Gwen Cooper is a compelling and eloquent narrator, and she writes of her beloved blind cat with dry wit and humor as well as affection. Her voice resonates off the page in a jovial and conversational tone, and reading this book feels like having a nice chat with Cooper across the table over coffee.

Cooper was already the owner of two cats when she received a call from her veterinarian about a four-week-old stray kitten who’d had his eyes surgically removed due to an infection. The kitten was up for adoption and proving difficult to place. Cooper, who was living paycheck to paycheck at the time, had no intention of adding to her brood. However, seeing a trooper in the tiny kitten, she adopted him and aptly named him Homer, after the blind storyteller of The Odyssey.

Unlike humans, handicapped animals seem to lack the capacity for self-pity, and Homer’s adventurous spirit is not dampened by his blindness. Raising Homer is full of trials and tribulations, extra attention and vigilant discipline. He’s irrepressibly rambunctious and insatiably curious, and Cooper relates many hilarious stories of Homer’s antics that should sound familiar to any cat owner, or even anyone who has had small children. He fearlessly scales seven-foot bookcases, pushes items off the coffee table in the living room, and once, when Cooper brings a date home, he eagerly rushes to greet her with a tampon in his mouth.

Equally funny are Homer’s interactions with Cooper’s two other cats, Scarlett and Vashti. Homer quickly settles into the role of the feisty little brother who likes roughhousing with his sisters and annoying them to no end. Scarlett, a snobbish prima donna of a cat, regards him as a nuisance, while the dainty Vashti is appalled at his horseplay. They do, however, become a functional family, while managing some level of tolerance for each other.

Homer also reveals his heroic side when he protects Cooper from an intruder who breaks into her Miami apartment one night. Later in the book, Cooper moves to New York City, into an apartment near the World Trade Center, and Homer instinctively guards his territory when he hears the explosions of 9/11, placing himself in front of Cooper and hissing at any danger that might befall her. Indeed, Homer is a brave cat—as brave and loyal as your Lassie or your Rin Tin Tin—and for all the care Cooper gives him, he gives back twice as much.

Homer’s Odyssey is a guaranteed hit with animal lovers. Whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, Homer will likely bat at your heartstrings. If you’re looking for a feel-good read, look no further—just look at Homer on the book cover, sitting poised on his chair, waiting for you to pick him up.

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