Forrest's Reviews > P.S. Your Cat Is Dead

P.S. Your Cat Is Dead by James Kirkwood
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Sep 25, 11

bookshelves: cbriii
Read from June 14 to 15, 2011

There is a fine line drawn between comedy that teaches and comedy that wounds. That line is drawn differently for every person. So it isn’t surprising that the reactions to the somewhat absurdist satire of Mr. Kirkwood would span such a broad scope. The novel is abrasive and crude and tends to rely on an atmosphere of over-the-top sexuality to generate tension, but at its core are some honest questions about the plight of people in our fundamentally hostile society.

P.S. Your Cat Is Dead is about and told by Jimmy Zoole, a floundering New York actor who experiences a downward spiral of unfortunate events when he is robbed (again) by Vito, a bisexual burglar. Jimmy knocks Vito out and trusses him up over the kitchen sink. The bulk of the novel deals with the conversations between the actor and the burglar, punctuated by interruptions from people in Jimmy’s life.

The most jarring aspect of the novel is the failure to delineate the novel from the original theatrical version of the manuscript. The book follows a very ‘scene-like’ organization that helps break up the subject matter, but the jolts from third-person narration to pure dialogue are distracting and annoying. It is very much as if Kirkwood took the script, removed the stage directions and stuffed in some narration without bothering to clean up the dialogue. Which is probably what happened. The book was subsequently re-adapted into play and movie format, neither of which I have seen, but I suspect that both would be somewhat more enjoyable than reading the book.

Despite the awkward writing, the subject matter is conveyed pretty well. The setup for the dramatic action is actually pretty reasonable, if slightly outside the realms of probability. Kirkwood connect directly with the sense that the world is Absurd and gives Jimmy the opportunity to confront that absurdness directly in the form of Vito. His reactions are where things start getting extreme. Albert Camus held that the only healthy way to deal with the fundamental ridiculousness of human existence is to accept it and live in spite of it. Jimmy’s reaction could be viewed less as acceptance and more as escalating reaction. In order to deal with his life, Jimmy becomes even more absurd, placing himself in the surreal setting of the book. Fortunately, Kirkwood does allow his protagonist to accept his lot in the end.

One thing that struck me was how well the language and subject matter of the book had survived four decades. Published originally in 1972, P.S. Your Cat Is Dead still resonates with modern American reader. Or perhaps I should say it has started resonating again. The economic troubles facing Americans and the increasing negativity of our culture and society have probably made this novel more relevant today than it would have been in 1995 or even 2000. There is a hopefulness buried within the insanity that anyone who can get past the over-the-top crudeness and sexuality will enjoy.
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