9:28:13 A Street Cat Named Bob, a book review

A cat can give you a second chance at life. Or so James Bowen claims in his moving memoir A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life.

James is a busker, singing and playing his guitar, in Convent Garden on London streets. He scrapes by with donations to meet the rent for his small flat, pay gas and electricity, and buy food. It's always a struggle because many instinctively avoid James, seeing a nonperson, probably a recovering heroin addict, who'd only worked his way out of rehab and "vulnerable housing" to get his own place with the idea of getting off the methadone maintenance he still needs--All is true.

[book cover]

One day, however, James returns to his flat to find a scraggly, ginger tomcat hanging around his door. As the saying goes, The cat chooses you, you don't choose the cat.

After spending several days searching for who might own the cat, James decides to take care of the ginger cat with the mangy coat and pus-ridden wound. James can only do so much and knows he needs a vet. The vet bill is virtually all of James's savings.

But he sees it as money well-spent and takes the cat home for keeps. He names the cat Bob, after the character Killer Bob in Twin Peaks. Bob has a similar calm-and-content-one-minute-charging-maniac-the-next personality. James figures Bob is most likely a street cat (Bob refuses litter trays, insisting on doing "his business" outdoors and has an appetite for dumpster food).

Thus, James and Bob take to the streets together, Bob often riding on James's shoulder, when not resting on the guitar case while James works at busking.

Ginger cat Bob is reason for people to pay attention to the James people formerly shunned. Income from busking goes up and dramatically. Strangers are drawn to Bob. They want to pet him.

In short, Bob brings a little magic into his hard-working benefactor's life as a street musician.

But this memoir is also a candid account of how hard it is to be a recovering heroin addict. I don't think anybody who reads James's story can reasonably see a street musician, or vendor of a street paper (as Big Issue or Street Roots) and assert, They could get a real job. As Mr. Bowen shows, going from "living rough" (homeless) to scraping by with a roof over your head is a huge step.

The life is not easy, but as A Street Cat Named Bob draws to a close, what they say of cats is true of both James and Bob, They ask so little and give so much. May James and Bob live long and happy lives as two street denizens who gave the other the second chance everyone deserves.

A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, 2013, 280 pp. ISBN: 978-1-250-02946-1.

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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

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