The first thing I noticed about “Love Saves the Day” was, of course, the rather cheesy title. My eye would not have lingered further if not for 1) the tiger cat on the cover and 2) the name of the author, Gwen Cooper, who wrote the bestselling memoir “Homer’s Odyssey.” Sold.
In “Homer’s Odyssey,” Cooper told the captivating and remarkable story of Homer, a blind black cat who would change her life — and even save it on one terrifying occasion. He also helped her find her voice as a writer.
One of the voices in “Love Saves the Day,” a novel, is that of Prudence, a tiger cat with some very definite opinions about the Way Things Ought to Be. She has lived with her human, Sarah, in a little apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and has had everything pretty much the way she wants it since Sarah found her at a construction site when she was a kitten. Prudence is a one-person cat; any other human is peripheral at best. She reminded me very much of Idgie, my diva tiger kitty who passed a couple of years ago.
Some readers may have a problem with animals as narrators. I do not. If I did, this is written well enough that I could probably still “listen” to what this feline narrator has to say about the way we humans treat cats, not to mention one another.
One day, Sarah does not come home, and soon Sarah’s daughter Laura and son-in-law Josh come in with boxes. They begin packing up and clearing out what Prudence sees as her life with Sarah, finally carrying out Prudence herself and taking her to “Upper West Side, which is obviously all the way on the opposite side of the world,” Prudence reflects.
She keeps waiting for Sarah to come back from wherever she is and take her home. In the meantime, she has two new humans, a strange apartment, and even new food (organic instead of the grocery store stuff and “people food” Sarah gave her) to manage. Prudence discovers that some people are woefully unschooled in cat protocol — and have their own issues as well.
The story is told alternately by Prudence, Laura, and Sarah. Beneath the present conflicts lie old wounds suffered (and inflicted) by mother and daughter, which stem from a years-ago trauma when they literally lost everything in a day.
It’s a good read if you love animals, especially cats, who have their own set of rules and appreciate being kept respectfully informed just as much as anyone else does.
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(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
For a book called “Love Saves the Day,” this was a pretty rough read. When Laura was fourteen, she and Sarah and all their neighbors were evacuated from their Lower East Side apartment building on a Saturday morning, presumably because some bricks fell off the back of the aging building. First they’re told they can go back in as soon as the building is declared safe. As the day wears on, they are told the building is being condemned and no one can go back in at all. Laura and Sarah’s neighbor, Mr. Mandelbaum, begs to be allowed to retrieve his cat, Honey, but he is barred from doing so. Desperate, Laura sneaks in and tries to get Honey herself, but the effort fails and Sarah is frightened and furious. The building is torn down that night before anyone has a chance to file a petition, grant a stay, or otherwise intervene. The residents lose what little they have in the course of a single day. For Laura, trust and security crumble. (I was horrified to read in the afterword that a century-old tenement building was evacuated and demolished by the City of New York in 1998. Two cats, one named Honey, and a parrot were inside, and their owners were not allowed to retrieve them.)
That agonizing scene comes on the heels of Prudence’s present-day realization that Sarah has died. Grief-stricken and frightened by a quarrel Laura and Josh have just had, she starts nibbling on some lilies Josh brought in for their anniversary. Lilies are toxic, and very often fatal, to cats. As Prudence loses consciousness, it appears she might be joining her beloved human on the other side. Later, she hears Sarah singing to her . . . then wakes up in the vet clinic to discover it is Laura singing to her, asking her to stay.
As it turns out, the abandoned construction site where Sarah found Prudence was where their apartment building once stood, where their lives and hopes had come crashing down years before in a senseless power struggle that had nothing to do with them. “I know now what Laura knew already that day when she risked her life for Honey’s — that love is love, whether it goes on two legs or four,” Sarah says. “I was meant to find Prudence that day. … I’ve always known I was keeping her for Laura.”