Welcome Home, Bernard Socks by Paul Magrs
ARC Provided by the Author
Published by: Obverse Books
Publication Date: December 5th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 240 Pages
"Recollection of our past together is the happiest of time travel." That is all that remains of Fester cat. Memories, the fur clinging to the chair in the beach house, and the echo of his voice in Paul's head. The grief is raw and real, but once you open your heart you realize that to shut off love from your life would be doing a disservice to the memory of the one you let in. Therefore Paul and Jeremy are hesitantly aware that perhaps there is room for a new furry face in their lives. At a quaint little charity shop that is also a pet rescue, full of the tat that Paul and Jeremy love most, from old disco records to moldering paperbacks, there's a room in the back full of cats. Paul has been looking at these cat's images online, thinking it was idle curiosity, but once at THARG realizing that it was more specific. They are there to meet a dapper tuxedoed cat named Sox. Despite much to-ing and fro-ing, Sox comes to live with them.
It's a new experience for all three of them. Paul and Jeremy have never adopted a cat, Fester having adopted them. Whereas the newly rechristened Bernard Socks has boundless energy with this new life full of rooms to explore as well as gardens and other cats not locked up! It will be an adjustment for all of them, but more than that, it will be a trial as their world quite literally collapses around them. With their cozy home now a disaster zone with a nice view of the looming storm clouds as their ceilings collapse. Yet they are able cope, to move forward, because of this new fury presence in their lives. They are literally rebuilding their lives post Fester and they have found a new companion for the journey. While Fester might not approve of them moving on so quickly, as he casts his wry gaze from a place that is in no way rainbow or bridge-like, he realizes that his boys need this new fury nucleus that is full of life and vim and vigor. Bernard Socks is there for his boys, and if he occasionally needs a little nudge in the right direction, that's why Fester's watching over them all. Ungow!
"You are my first, my last, my everything." The eternal question is how do you move on from your everything? When that little furry face is gone and it hurts to take a single breath. Most cat memoirs are about the cat that comes into these people's lives, makes everything wonderful, and then leaves his humans the better for having had him around. But this is false and the reason I usually avoid them like the plague. They don't tell the whole story. Despite all these narrative contrivances, life goes on and not in a golden glow of remembered love. Life doesn't stop when you lose the one you love. Cats didn't stop with the death of Fester or with the death of my Spotty. When I lost my kitty I was shocked that the world kept turning while I was stuck standing still, there in the backyard under the stars, unable to move forward.
I still have trouble with the moving forward, which makes me applause the braveness of this book. The Story of Fester Cat was about the joy Fester brought Paul and Jeremy. How despite his death, his time with them made them a family as well as raising the book above the standard fare with Fester's unique voice. While this first volume is bittersweet, knowing that Fester's time on earth is no more, this second volume is more about life. Life is messy and it's hard to pick back up the pieces. Yet Paul and Jeremy do. Paul exorcises his grief by writing Fester's story, though the coming year will try them more than once. Welcome Home, Bernard Socks is about moving on in the wake of disaster. Finding a way to keep moving forward. The bravery of embracing change and letting love in. Being willing to let time move forward and let another furry face into your heart, while not replacing the first. This book is warts and all dealing with grief and how life wins, no matter how hard it gets, which is something we all need to be reminded of.
That is why I connect to this book so strongly. Because Paul is letting us into his life. You see his pain and his joy, you see everything and it forges a strong connection between author and reader. Ironically this is a reason I usually don't read memoirs, even if written in honor of the more elevated feline. There's a lack of connection between the writer and their audience. They have created some sort of image and are there to perpetuate that. Not to offer insight or assistance, just to glorify themselves. Well, after The Story of Fester Cat I've started to revise my stance on memoirs. I saw that they could be a reflection of ourselves. I saw they could be full of truth and love and sadness and humor. This past year I have read more memoirs and autobiographies than I ever have. While I connected to none as strongly as I have Paul's writing, I have gotten more insight into myself then I would have thought possible. I also realize that my life could be a lot worse and am grateful for what I have.
But here, now, with Paul, what I connected with most is the weird little habits that develop after you have lost your furry friend. The secretly looking at adoptable cats online and forming attachments to them based on their stories and pictures. You know it's too soon, yet you can't help downloading a few of these pictures to look at later on your desktop. You might even have a cat folder on your computer, not that there's anything wrong with that. You spin scenarios in your head, you look at the hours of shelters and think, what would it hurt to drop by? Then you are shocked by how large cats are compared to the dainty gentleman that left you too soon. Thankfully for Bernard Socks Paul's habits moved into action, while mine are still in the realm of possibilities...
If there is one flaw in this book that I could point to it is that Fester's voice is so strong that it occasionally crowds out Bernard Socks. I love the little insights into the differences of their personalities. The distinguished old gentleman versus the rollicking teenager. The "ungow" versus the "weeee-oooooo!" The fact that Fester was more of a disco lover, while Bernard Socks is all about the jazz. I'm quite convinced my Spotty was into instrumentals, though not of the loud John Williams type, more the quite Sunday afternoon miniseries type, but he loved it when you changed the lyrics to songs to be all about him. Paul is just learning about Bernard Socks, getting to know him, so aside from one little talk between the two cats, Bernard hasn't found his voice yet and it's still Fester who is talking to Paul. Don't get me wrong, I love Fester's voice, I just wonder what Bernard Socks's voice will be like when he stops racing around and settles down. We all mature into our personalities and the newest inhabitant of Paul and Jeremy's house hasn't matured yet. So in other words, I see a third book in this style in Paul's future.
It's Paul's other books that brought me to him, through his fantasy writing where his stories wrap around you like a comfy blanket as he hands you a mug of spicy tea and is there for sympathy should you need it. Because Paul's books always have a ghost of himself flitting about the pages the transition from his fantasy writing to Fester's memoirs, which stayed mostly in the realm of reality, was a pretty seamless shift. The fantastical elements were missing but not missed, and if you're not a cat person and say that Fester's voice is pretty outlandish, well, obviously these books aren't for you. Yet there was a part of me that was excited to think he might one day combine his two styles. When I read in the book's blurb that "Bernard Socks escapes and discovers a ghostly cat parade that happens every Midsummer Night’s Eve in Levenshulme" I realized that time had come. Here Paul was ready to combine his two styles into something new.
"Deep underground in back gardens cat bones stir and start to remember." When I read these words a little frisson of excitement went across my skin. I was always the dorky cat kid who totally believed that Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats was real. I'd spend hours sitting in front of the piano with my cat on my lap trying to teach him how to play some of the songs. Because cats are magical beings that smell slightly of sulfur, and while most of their adventures are mundane, a true cat lover knows that not all of them are. And here Paul has brought to life one of those ghostly adventures, where all the cats who have left us come back to cavort on this one night every year. What it reminded me most of was the chapter "Danse Macabre" in Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book which is filled with eerie ghostly revelries. There is a melancholy frivolity to both that make them memorable. But what is most memorable is the knowledge Fester gains on his return, that cats can come back so long as someone remembers them. With this second volume ghostwritten by Fester he has guaranteed his place at the revelries for years to come. Ungow forever!
Saturday, December 5, 2015
Welcome Home, Bernard Socks by Paul Magrs