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Review: A Conversation With A Cat Delivers A Unique Narrative On Cleopatra

Review: A Conversation With A Cat Delivers A Unique Narrative On Cleopatra

The Beauty of Personification

There was a writing prompt I ran into years ago that asked the writer to tell a story from the point of view of an inanimate object. Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All popped into my mind. In that book, a few of the main characters consist of a sock, a spoon, and a can of beans. Each object has a unique voice and backstory. The personification of objects and animals isn’t something new. Humans have been attributing human qualities to non-human critters and things since storytelling became a fireside pass time. There is something special about an author giving the reader a  peek into the minds, real or imagined, of non-human characters. Stephen Spotte’s A Conversation with a Cat delivers that special something in spades.

A Conversation with a Cat Review

A Conversation with a Cat: A Novel by Stephen Spotte

After an emergency surgery for a ruptured gallbladder, Steve finds himself inebriated on pain meds. Wanting to keep the buzz going, Steve starts in on the rum and weed (a lovely combination I personally researched in my 20s), when his ‘rescued’ ally cat, Jinx makes mental contact.

Genre Jumper

In the forward of the book, Spotte recounts his own impromptu gallbladder removal, subsequent morphine-addled mind, and the formation of the premise – what if cats could talk to humans in altered states of consciousness? The reader is also given to rundown on how Spotte’s actual cat Jinx came to live with him and his wife. The forward, along with the last two chapters, and the middle bit about Cleopatra (I know, that’s the whole book) make me want to move this book from the fiction genre to the creative non-fiction category. There’s just too much truth and fact for A Conversation with a Cat to be pure fiction.

Jinx explains to Steve that cats share a collective consciousness of sorts. Cats with either historical ties or perhaps pure self-indulgence, upload their memories to what I shall call the cat-cloud. The cloud can then be accessed by any living cat. Jinx decides to indulge his intoxicated owner with the tale of Cleopatra as seen through the eyes of Annipe, one of the Queen of the Nile’s feline companions.

The Cleopatra I Didn’t Know

I must admit to not knowing much about Cleopatra outside of misconceptions and gossip surrounding this ancient powerful female leader. What I knew about her came from high school English class in the form of Shakespeare, asp and all. However, Annipe’s history was different. Cleopatra wasn’t the femme fatal I had been led to believe she was. Sure, she was ruthless and cunning, but one had to be growing up in the family she found herself born into. Not many made it out alive. I was so intrigued with Spotte’s, er, Annipe’s retelling that I had to do my own research on this amazing woman.

I found several podcasts to see if I could discover where history ended and Spotte’s imagination began and I have to say, the man did his homework.

Spotte used Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life along with Arthur Weigall’s The Life and Times of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt by Arthur Weigall as key references. Schiff’s book was the one I heard referenced over and over in the history podcasts I delved into. When kismet threw Schiff’s book onto the library discard shelf I happened to be sifting through, I had to buy it. It was as if Annipe, the queen herself, and Spotte were speaking to me from the mysterious cat-cloud.

How to Personify a Cat

Through the no-nonsense and cynical voice of Annipe, Spotte delivers a snarky and at times bitchy rendition of the life of Cleopatra. As an on again off again cat keeper, Annipe’s observations and critiques of human motivation and character flaws felt true and at times, a little hurtful, but hey, what else can we expect for our feline frenemies?

Cats are interesting creatures. Their existence alongside humans is one of mutual benefit instead of the intense companionship humans experience with dogs (food brings rodents, cats eat rodents, humans like cats who eat rodents, cats like an easy meal). Cats hang out with humans because life is ultimately easier than having to live hand to paw. Dogs on the other side of the coin have been bred down to be our best friends.

In addition to Cleopatra, the reader is also treated to what Jinx’s life was like before the overly “helpful” humans yanked him off the street, swiped his balls, and stuck him in a cage.

Steven Spotte offers a unique and imaginative peak into the world of cats and the misunderstood Cleopatra in A Conversation with a Cat. I truly enjoyed this delightful book with one caveat. I wasn’t into the slut-shaming Annipe delved into on occasion concerning herself, other cats and her mistress, Cleopatra. Yet, I’ll let it slide because a cat is gonna be catty, it’s in their nature.

Cynthia Varady
Cynthia Varady

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