McKinnell, Jesse. “Dead Cats: And Other Reflections On Parenthood”, Shine Box, 2019.
Joel Peterson has hit rock bottom. He was once a very successful dentist and a member of America’s upper middle class but he has discovered drugs and that along with his own sense of ego and vanity have taken him down. as if that was not enough, an automobile accident caused him to be emotionally wounded and physically homeless. He can only find solace and comfort with the help of the ghost of Kurt Cobain and then he decides that the time has come to reclaim his life and family and so he develops a plan to do so.
“Dead Cats and Other Reflections on Parenthood” has Peterson’s story and it is a dark one yet filled with moments of humor. Peterson and “Cobain” go through the south of the sate of main in hopes of finding meaning in their lives and living up to what others expect them to be. I find it quite sad that Peterson could have been a nice guy had he not had to deal with the situation that is partly his own fault and partly thrown upon him but then we all face situations in our lives that we do not succumb to.
Peterson’s story is of trust and the emotional ties that keep us together as well as what happens after betrayal. Can we ever trust someone again after betrayal and if so, how much?.
Looking back at what happened, we read that Peterson’s wife made him move into their guest house behind his home and then we see him in court with the remains of his family’s dead cat, Frisker. We learn that he deliberately drove over the cat while using the drug, lidocaine. The judge is not sure how to deal with situation especially when Joel has a conversation with the dead cat, is unsettling. The judge tells Joel and his wife to settle the matter between themselves and come back in a month.
We become very aware of Joel’s delusionary behavior when he thinks that Kurt Cobain is not only with him but will help him return to who he was. Peterson makes a promise to himself that he will stop taking drugs and start telling the truth. He adds to that list that there will be no more dead pets, that he will case obsessing about money and that he will get his priorities right. I did not believe him from the moment I read this and of course nothing happens according to his plan and before he knows it, Joel is heading down.
Unfortunately, matters don’t turn out as planned and His wife puts restraining orders on him and he is prevented from going back to his home and office as well as from visiting his children and wife. His credit cards and bank accounts are frozen and the judge orders the funds in his joint checking account to be moved into his wife’s account.
There are some very witty moments in the story about the meaning of happiness. and what it means. We see Joel change from an obsessive consumer keeping up a privileged life style buying what he does not need but think he does to losing it all. He spends his life paying for the mistakes he has made and we do not pity him because he has done this to himself.
I found myself laughing aloud as a I read but I really think that my laughs were tinged with sorrow because of Joe’s having hit bottom and things could have been so different. Then, on the other hand, if they had been different, we would not have had this story and I would never have read this book. We never meet Joel before he began his downward descent sop we never know the good Joel. Perhaps, there never was a good Joel but I could not help wonder if he was something of a Job character even though he brought his woes on himself. “Dead Cats” is both very very funny and very horrible at the same time. It is not your usual novel but it is a total experience that I hope many will get to explore.