Most helpful positive review
on June 7, 2003
Cleveland Amory's book 'The Best Cat Ever' is part of a series he wrote that involved his cat Polar Bear, who came into Amory's life one winter evening, and became an integral part thereafter. Amory and Polar Bear in fact are buried side by side, united once more. I can relate to this personally, as each of the cats that have come into my life have come in uninvited and unexpectedly, but very welcome and very quickly indispensable.
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).