Love, Loss & Renewal: Reading Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper
A few years ago, Cooper gained worldwide renown for her book, Homer’s Odyssey, the story of her blind cat Homer and what she learned from him. Now Cooper is back with another feline, Prudence, in this Bantam Books novel about love, loss, and renewal. But when Cooper does a book tour, Kleenex should sponsor it, as I cried through most of the book. But that may say more about me than the plot of the book.
The story is mainly told from the point of view of Prudence, a brown tabby who lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with her Very Important Person, Sarah. Cooper makes sure to include details that would only be noticed by a cat – such as smells, sounds, and subtle changes that would not be picked up by humans.
When the story begins, Prudence is waiting for Sarah to come home. But Sarah hasn’t been home in five days. Instead, Sarah’s daughter Laura arrives with her husband Josh. Prudence is perplexed when they start to pack up Sarah’s belongings. Where has Sarah gone? “I’m still angry with Sarah for leaving me without saying goodbye. Mostly, though, I just hope I get to see her again someday. She’s the only human I’ve ever loved.”
Prudence is taken from her home in the Lower East Side to Sarah and Josh’s apartment on the Upper West Side. It takes her a while to get used to her new surroundings and she mostly stays in the spare room with the belongings that Laura has decided to keep, mostly Sarah’s “black disks.” Through conversations, we learn that Sarah used to be a DJ and a record owner in the seventies, but she gave it all up when Laura was fourteen. Chapters written from Laura’s point of view and flashbacks from Sarah fill in the details about their lives, but not the reason for their estrangement.
Time passes and Prudence discovers that the “Sarah-and-me-together smell” is fading from the boxes in the room. Other things are also changing. Josh loses his job and Laura’s workload is reduced. Laura is afraid that they will lose their apartment. Josh visits the neighborhood where Laura grew up and gets involved with helping tenants fight the sale of their apartment building, which has a famous studio on its bottom floor. Laura isn’t happy with his new passion, as it reminds her of the worse day of her life.
But Laura and Josh’s first anniversary becomes the worse day of Prudence’s life and the day when everything changes. During an argument that morning in front of Prudence, Josh mentions the fact that Laura didn’t take off work when her mother died. Prudence finally discovers the fate of her Very Important Person. She is devastated. “The ache in my chest from Sarah’s being gone rips back open so suddenly that I can’t breathe.” In her distress, Prudence eats some toxic flowers – and she feels the presence of Sarah.
But “love saves the day.” Not only is that the name of the store where the teenage Sarah met her best friend Anise, it is what brings Prudence back to life. Finding the kitten helped Sarah find music in her life again and Laura uses music to reach the unconscious feline who is the only link left to her mother. She realizes that her job is not as important as her family.
The mystery of what happened to Laura and Sarah is revealed. The miracle of Sarah finding Prudence at the spot where another beloved tabby perished brings the story full circle. And finally Laura is able to grieve for her mother and realize the depth of her mother’s love – though a long lost song. Prudence says, “I know now what Sarah meant when she said that if you remember someone, they’ll always be with you. Sarah is here with us now. As I listen to her sing, I know that she never left.”
The day that I finished the book was the seventeenth anniversary of the day I adopted my first cat, a Himalayan named Smokey. After I put the book down, I pulled out my photo album of Smokey, who died in March 2010. As I looked as the photos, I realized that not only did I no longer have Smokey, I no longer had most of the belongings shown in the photos with him. In December 2011, after three years of looking in vain for work, I was evicted from my apartment, along with my black cat Ozzy. Sarah’s story of watching her home being destroyed reminded me of throwing out the rugs, comforters and other belongings that I didn’t have room for in my storage unit. Like Prudence, everything smells strange to me now. I no longer have a home, a place with a “me smell.”
For seven months, I was separated from Ozzy, as I was homeless on the streets of Berkeley and Los Angeles for three months and then spent four months staying with friends while Ozzy stayed with a foster family. In July 2012, the foster family went on vacation and Ozzy had nowhere to go. I called the local no-kill shelter, where I had received volunteer training a month earlier. When the director stated the shelter couldn’t take Ozzy, I became hysterical, like Sarah became hysterical when she thought she would lose Laura. Previously, the director had offered to get Ozzy a free veterinary checkup, but when I tried to contact her after I had calmed down, she never returned my calls or e-mails. Like Laura, Ozzy was all I had left of my old life. But maybe if Ozzy had gone to the place that Prudence called “the Bad Place,” he wouldn’t still be with me. I know that he has health problems, but I am glad that my friends allowed him to stay with me. Once I get back on my feet, I will have to take him for a checkup, which may signal the end of our almost seventeen year relationship – the longest time I have lived with anyone other than my father. I find my eyes “filling up with water,” as Prudence would say.
But I will let those words about remembering be my guide. In Love Saves the Day, Cooper included some real life events from the Lower East Side and immortalized a long lost cat named Honey. The story of Prudence will remain with me for a long time as I face my own losses, memories, and renewal.