Book of the Month
~by Michele Gregoire
January 2015 Review: The Cat that God Sent, a novel by Jim Kraus
Jim Kraus dedicated this book to his real Siberian cat: “To Petey, the noble cat who has deemed us suitable hosts.” (The author has also written another animal novel, The Dog That Talked to God, suggesting that he is truly an animal lover.) The Cat That God Sent is a pleasant and quick reading novel, with a cat named Petey as a main character, or perhaps more a supporting role to the main character, who is a preacher named Jake. The story opens with Jake traveling to his new pastoral assignment at a little nondenominational church in a small rural community. He is troubled with a painful shoulder, a lot of doubts, and a bit of a negative attitude. By the third page Petey the cat is introduced and the author provides the cat’s inner dialogue as he watches the new pastor’s old white truck pull into the driveway. We find that he is favoring a sore paw and that he talks to God, who uses ‘good cats’ to help people. This sets the stage for an engaging tale.
In a nutshell, Jake’s life has come unraveled because of a crisis of faith. He’s lost his fiancé, his previous position in a large prestigious church, and he has walked away from his old life to an out of the way little town far from his roots to try and regain his lost faith while keeping his secret from the church members. Of course, eventually he is exposed and has to address his hypocrisy to the congregation, but not before lots of events and interactions with town people and congregants have occurred and helped him feel his calling and purpose again, though it doesn’t just come back without help from his faith community – and the cat.
The parish is made up of a true variety of individuals, many of whom came back to church because of the cat that Jake took on as his own and who also attends church every Sunday. This phenomenon created quite a bit of interest in the town folk and many came to Sunday service just to experience the cat in attendance. The author writes the cat’s point of view as integral to the novel and illustrates how Petey the cat is doing God’s work to help Jake in his quest for renewed trust in the Lord.
Jake’s secret does not seem to rise to the level of a major life concerning event, but in the interest of the story line author Kraus places a significant emphasis on his character’s loss of faith as a creator of angst and negativity that drives the character’s decisions. Still, as Christian fiction one would expect this sort of tension and resolution in the main character. Petey the cat serves an important function since some of the key characters in the book talk to him so the reader is informed of their emotional status, and it’s also a device that enhances or reinforces plot details. As a cat he is extremely perceptive of human emotions and responds to needy human characters with care and concern, as well as simple inner monologue representing his thoughts.
Several contemporary cultural themes are present in the story and help drive it to its conclusion, such as single motherhood, unmarried pregnancy, and guilt over an abortion years ago. Jake was raised by a single mother and relates his difficulty in believing in God the Father to his not having a father growing up. He wonders if he went to seminary just to please his mother rather than having a true desire for it himself. Jake helps a runaway girl who also turns out to be pregnant by letting her stay in a parishioner’s RV that is parked on the parsonage property, which causes some talk and suspicion among certain residents. He stands up to his mother when she visits and tries to control his life and it has a freeing effect on him.
Many Franciscan-type examples can be found in the pages of this novel. The relationship of the pastor to the cat reflects St. Francis and his relationship to creation, and further, his care for the young girl in need regardless of what people were saying or thought about it, show the main character’s concern for the less fortunate. And, the mismatched eccentric group of individuals who make up the parishioners of the church seem to be a group of (self-selected) outcasts from the mainstream of society. But they all appreciate the cat coming to church and are able to relate to Jake’s crisis of faith when he finally makes it the topic of a sermon. This happens towards the end of the book, after nearly the whole town had learned of the reason he left his previous appointment from the main character’s potential love interest (a relationship that remains unresolved), a veterinarian who is not a religious or church attending person. At the end ofthe book one comes away with satisfaction that the parishioners are accepting, caring, and responsive people and are able to relate to the experience of the pastor. We are also reminded that our fellow non-human creatures share with us the sense of God, through Petey’s character. And finally, we know that the main character has solved his dilemma.
The fun part of this book is the cat’s inner monologue and way of thinking; his creation as one of the main characters makes a simple and potentially trite story line into a more interesting plot. The novel appeals to those readers, like myself, who appreciate and enjoy animal characters that play significant roles in fiction. And, because it is a Christian book, the supporting details are refreshingly moral and inoffensive.
Dr. Michele Gregoire has been Chair of the Education Department at Flagler College since 2004 and a member of the faculty since 1988. She came to Flagler College from Georgia College in Milledgeville where she had been Director of Music Therapy for four years and prior to that she spent one year in the same capacity at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Dr. Gregoire earned her bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy at Florida State University, her master’s degree in Music at California State University at Long Beach, and her doctoral degree in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has conducted research and published articles related to music therapy and special music education, consistently maintains a strong record of professional conference presentations, and her current interests are historical research in music education, special education, and music therapy.
Dr. Gregoire has been involved in several professional organizations throughout her career, and has served in leadership capacities in most of them. She worked for ten years as a clinical music therapist and director of internship, specializing in developmental disabilities, at the beginning of her career and continues to provide consultation in both music therapy and special education to individuals and organizations.
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