April 2013 Review: Love Saves the Day, a novel by Gwen Cooper

~by Michele Gregoire

Two years ago I began the Good Books column with my first review, of the memoir Homer’s Odyssey written by Gwen Cooper. This month I have the joy of writing a review of Ms. Cooper’s third book, her new novel released in January entitled Love Saves the Day. This is a uniquely enjoyable book, though laden with much emotional impact. The main character and voice is that of the cat, Prudence, who finds herself suddenly without her owner and moved into the home of her owner’s daughter and husband. The story evolves as they develop their own relationship and Prudence becomes a beloved member of her new family. However, this tale has many layers and events that come to light as the characters grapple with loss and the building of new relationships.

The primary human characters of the story are Prudence’s owner Sarah, her daughter Laura, and Laura’s husband Josh. The novel takes place in New York City and the main characters are Jewish, which is noted by the religious holidays and religious/cultural elements described within the story. While Prudence is the primary protagonist Laura and Sarah are the main human characters whose perspective is central to the overall plot. The chapters are titled with the character who is narrating, so the voices alternate between Prudence, Sarah, and Laura. The story is told from all three perspectives.

In broad summary, Sarah dies at work of a heart attack and for a few days Prudence is left alone with the neighbor coming in to feed and clean the litter box until Laura and Josh arrive to move everything out of the apartment, including the cat. Much of Prudence’s monologue consists of her trying to understand why Sarah has gone away while expecting her to come back at any time. Prudence spends her days mostly in the boxes of Sarah’s personal belongings, feeling safe amongst her smell, until several months have passed and she has become part of her new family. Cooper artfully creates a world of understanding from a cat’s viewpoint, based on the strong sensory capabilities that inform a cat of its environment. The entire novel is extremely touching and presents many truths through the mind of a cat. As Laura and Josh are packing up her mother’s apartment, Prudence tells us “Laura has been stacking up Sarah’s coats and jackets, which smell more like her than anything else. Why does she have to make everything of Sarah’s go away? Sarah once told me that if you remember someone, they’ll always be with you. But what if the opposite is true? What if getting rid of everything that reminds you of someone means they’ll never come back to be with you again?” This gets so eloquently at the loss she is feeling and the worry that her only companion, whom Prudence says she adopted, might never return. It is only late in the book that Prudence actually hears Josh say that Sarah is dead and then understands that she truly is never coming back. For months no one said that word in her presence so she kept hoping. Prudence’s continuing narration includes her understanding and perspective on humans, for example when she tells the reader “It’s easy to fool them, because humans have a much harder time detecting untruths than cats do.” She also has much to say about humans’ bad manners toward cats. Love Saves the Day is just a treasure of cat psychology and understanding in nearly every page, given through a well developed fictional tale that reads as if completely true.

Cooper has done extensive historical research about the music scene in New York from the 1960’s through the 1990’s. Her descriptions of the areas of New York in which the story takes place are thorough and vivid, filled with sensory detail. Further, she has researched historical data about the lower east side during the same time period to create events in the climaxing thirteenth chapter, narrated by Sarah, that are profoundly disturbing. It is where the rift between Laura and her mother began and is the most sorrowful chapter, although it closes with Sarah reflecting on her finding of Prudence as a kitten, “I was meant to find Prudence that day. I know that now, and it seems as if I’ve known it always. I’ve always known I was keeping her for Laura.” These thoughts are shortly before Sarah’s death as she knows her heart is weak and senses she doesn’t have long in this world. Later, a tragedy hits when Prudence almost dies. In the final chapter, Laura has a visit from her friend at the law firm where she previously worked. “…He bends to put one hand under my nose, and I lean my whole head against it. ‘She’s a beauty,’ he tells Laura. ‘She’s perfect.’ Laura’s voice is more serious when she says, ‘We almost lost her. Someone was looking out for us.’ ‘I don’t doubt it.’ Perry stands up straight so he is looking at Laura again. ‘Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over and whispers, Grow, grow.’”

It is difficult to read through this wonderful novel without tears. The essential story is one of relationship and love – between a mother and daughter and between both of them and a cat who heals the broken space in a daughter afraid to grieve. One of the sweetest messages of the story is the simple faith of Prudence, like that of a child. Gwen Cooper has proven her gift yet again with this beautiful story that will surely have a profound effect on its readers. I know that some aspects of the story had to have been difficult for her to write, in chapter 13 for example, especially since the event was based upon a true incident that is shared in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. I am certain we can look forward to more fiction and nonfiction from Ms. Cooper. She is a supporter of animal rescue and shelter organizations, including those for disabled cats, and is one of the most humane writers of our time. I will remain one of her steadfast fans; she has much yet to share and I patiently await her next work.

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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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