Guest book review by Peter J. Wolf
Believe it or not, I don’t actually seek out cat books (the burgeoning kit lit genre). And yet, the minute I was handed Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat, I was intrigued. There’s the book’s title of course, but what really captured my attention was the photo of Homer, a handsome black cat–with no eyes. See, I have a handsome black cat of my own–with one eye. Though I try not to judge a book buy its cover, I’m more than willing to take a closer look. Surely, there was something in Homer’s Odyssey for me.
As it turns out, there’s something here for everybody. Homer’s Odyssey, writes author Gwen Cooper, was written for “the ones who’ve given up on believing in everyday miracles and heroes; for people who love cats and for people who consider themselves firmly anti-cat; for those who think that normal and ideal mean the same thing, and for those who know that, sometimes, stepping slightly to the left of what’s normal can enrich your whole life.” Fair enough. But for some of us, it’s easy to feel a particular connection to the story, to Cooper, and of course, to Homer.
Homer’s story begins with veterinarian Dr. Patty Khuly (whose blog is a treasure trove of news, information, and commentary related to veterinary medicine), who diagnosed the two-week old kitten with a “a severe infection that would surely take his sight, if not his life.” Finding him otherwise healthy, Khuly chose to remove both of the kitten’s eyes–before they’d even had a chance to open naturally. He would be blind, of course, but he would live. The kitten recovered quickly and promptly won over the entire office. “He was eminently lovable,” writes Khuly in the book’s foreword, “at least by all standards except the one with which most humans preoccupied themselves: his appearance.”
Finding a home for the eyeless, nameless kitten was another matter. Even those who could get past his appearance were concerned about how he–and they–would cope with his disability. Cooper had her own reasons for being reluctant, reasons many of us can relate to: two cats at home already, finances tight, etc. Upon meeting him, though, she scooped him up in her arms and said simply, “I’m taking him home.”
Homer was blind–but unlike most blind cats, he’d never known what it was like to see. “Lacking even a concept of vision,” writes Cooper, “I was sure he made things up to account for the world around him.” It was the kitten’s “storytelling” abilities that prompted Cooper to name him after the famous Greek poet (believed to have been blind). And Homer’s stories were, like those of his namesake, epic adventures.
Every leap from a chair back or tabletop is taken on faith, a potential leap into the abyss. Every ball chased down a hallway is an act of implicit bravery. Every curtain or countertop climbed, every overture of friendship to a new person, every step forward taken without guidance into the dark void of the world around him is a miracle of courage.
Homer’s Odyssey chronicles the many wonders of this daredevil cat–snatching a housefly out of the air, for example, or, to the astonishment of all parties involved, chasing away an intruder. But this is also a story about Cooper’s unbreakable bond with Homer (best expressed, perhaps, in her recounting of the three agonizing days following 9-11 when she struggled to reach her apartment, located just blocks from Ground Zero), and, ultimately, about how her life has been shaped by this sightless “wonder cat.” (See a video clip of Homer in action.)
In other words, there’s more here than cat stories–which, let’s face it, can sometimes get tedious even for cat people (and who are, more than likely, guilty of telling more than our fair share). The book’s title hints at this, of course–the timeless wisdom embedded in the dramatic tales of a remarkable cat. By inviting readers into her own life, Cooper shares much of what she’s learned over the past twelve years–perhaps most eloquently when she explains why she adopted Homer in the first place:
“I didn’t adopt Homer because he was cute and little and sweet, or because he was helpless and he needed me. I adopted him because when you think you see something so fundamentally worthwhile in someone else, you don’t look for the reasons–like bad timing or a negative bank balance–that might keep it out of your life. You commit to being strong enough to build your life around it, no matter what.
Reading Homer’s Odyssey, one can’t help but take stock of what our pets–especially if they are among the many considered unadoptable–mean to us. And if that’s all the book accomplished, well–to borrow a phrase from Cooper–it would have been enough.