Picking up where "The Cat Who Came for Christmas" and "The Cat and the Curmudgeon" left off, this beautiful new paperback edition continues the story of the cat named Polar Bear and his grumpy, lovable owner.
Now I, like many cat owners, wasn't pleased at the title of the book (as of course, my cats are the best cats ever), although I certainly understood the sentiment expressed. And Amory was prepared for this:
'First, an apology. It is presumptuous of me to title this last book about the cat who owned me what I have titled it. The reason it is presumptuous is that to people who have, or have ever been, owned by a cat, the only cat who can ever be the best cat ever is their cat.'
Amory uses the wonderful tales of his cat and their life together to also recount past glories and silly stories. One such is his time at Harvard, when he and a friend enrolled in a course entitled 'The Idea of Fate and the Gods' because they had heard it would not require much homework, and then were crestfallen to receive a poor grade. This grade was upgraded when the professor was reminded of their undergraduate status. He had a habit of declaring everything good by exclaiming 'Capital! -- a rather typically eccentric observation for Amory to make.
Under the chapter title 'My Last Duchess', he recounts the failed attempt to write the autobiography (I did not make a mistake here) of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (making particular point to the way it rankled her to never be given the appellation of 'royal'). In very humourous and somewhat embarrassing detail, he recounts stilted conversations and dull-as-dirt dinner parties designed more for the stroking of ego and vanity of all participants than any real social purpose (although, yes, I realise that that, for some, is a, or even THE social purpose).
Amory also recounts his animal rights activist days, something that he worked hard for during much of his life, and which is carried on in his memory at the Black Beauty Ranch and through Amory's writings, which continue to touch the heart and soul of those who read them.
Amory has been privileged to lead an interesting life that connects to many other interesting people. He does not recount the stories as standard history, or as mere gossip-columnist fare, but rather looks for overall meanings and directions in what is often a difficult pattern of discernment in life. Regardless of social status, political motivation, or intellectual stature, people are people, and will do the most remarkable, selfish, selfless, silly, wonderful things. Amory's observations of this is a delight to read.
In a very moving essay Amory recounted his final days with Polar Bear, and his difficult decision to end Polar Bear's suffering. Amory talks about the grief of losing an animal (particularly hard on single people who become quite attached to their pets) in a moving way that I wish would be used as a pastoral care text.
Amory and Polar Bear are buried together at the Black Beauty Ranch, a home for thousands of abused and abandoned animals that have come to them over the years. Amory believed (as do I) that animals have souls, too, and therefore are deserving of humane treatment and (in an interesting argument) if they do not have souls, as living creatures they deserve even better treatment.
Read this book prepared to laugh and cry. Have your tissues ready for the final chapter, and read this book with a cat on your lap (which, in fact, is how wrote this review).
"I shall dwell ... on the past and the fun we had for the fifteen years we had together."
As the reader discovers, this is just not so. As a matter of fact, most of the author's narrative is born of the time before Polar Bear came into his life. Amory remembers his first job. Amory ruefully recounts his brief stint as a Hollywood scriptwriter. Amory tells of his association with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor when he was commissioned to ghost-write the autobiography of the latter. Amory revisits his time as a reviewer for TV Guide. Or, if after, then THE BEST CAT EVER gets hardly more than honorable mention. Amory discusses arthritis and its cures. Amory revisits his alma mater, Harvard. Amory is hit by a truck.
I can't say that this short book isn't entertaining. If I had harbored, before picking it up, any interest in the author, and if the book and been entitled REMINISCENCES OF CLEVELAND (or something of the sort), then I should happily award 4, and perhaps 5, stars. Amory is indeed talented and astute, as when he states of Wallis Warfield's morganatic marriage to the abdicated King Edward VIII:
"If she settled for being a morganatic wife, not only would she not be a Queen, she would have settled for something which, to her at least, sounded all too much like being a peasant."
Amory's dry wit notwithstanding, I can only award 3 stars because Polar Bear, most of the time, just isn't there. The best chapter is certainly the last, in which Cleveland poignantly and sadly describes his beloved pet's last illness and the trauma of having him put to sleep. (I was, perhaps, reminded of the advancing age of my own cat, Trouble. While still healthy at 10 years, that heartbreaking time will certainly come for her also.)
There are better books to be savored on the relationship between a human and its feline owner. Offhand, I can name three: I & CLAUDIUS by Clare De Vries, THE CAT WHO COVERED THE WORLD by Christopher Wren, and MY CAT SPIT MCGEE by Willie Morris.