Tom Cox has the odd notoriety of having a very popular Twitter account told from the perspective of his cat, The Bear. A showcase for The Bear’s unusually sorrowful eyes, the cat’s photos are paired with reasons why he looks so sad—hence the handle @MYSADCAT. It’s a brilliant Twitter account (staff picked last year by Laura M. Browning), with Cox crafting tiny stories of heartbreaking cat melancholy. So it’s a delight to get more of Cox’s writing in his volume The Good, The Bad, And The Furry, recently released in the U.S.
While plenty of the writing centers on his many cats, there is much to the man behind the Twitter account. Cox tells his own stories alongside those of Shipley, Ralph, Janet, Roscoe, and The Bear, and those stories demonstrate a dry humor and sharp wit just as acutely applied to the experiences of the human realm—relationships, self-worth, economic concerns—as it is to the absurdity of the feline world. Cox sometimes leaves his cats behind to examine life outside his little ecosystem of hair and litter, and the blend of Cox-as-everyman and Cox-as-cat-wrangler allows room for this memoir to be much more than a novelty cat book. He thoughtfully examines his divorce, using the cats as a literary device to investigate the relationship. Contemplating how the couple will split up their bounty of pets is as heartbreaking as any honest account of separating from a long-term loved one. The reserved British writer manages to tread tales of divorce and life after it with a polite sense of respect and lack of bitterness. Later he ruminates on single life and, eventually, begins a long-distance relationship, and within Cox’s own life, the book gains its thoughtful soul. Struggling to find peace is something everyone identifies with, cat lover or not.
But anyone who has had a houseful of cats knows peace can be evasive, and if Cox is the soul of the book, the cats are its beating heart. Shipley is “sweary” (@MYSWEARYCAT), with meows that sound like he’s cursing, a brute whose footfall can be mistaken for a person’s approach and who can shoulder-open Cox’s heavy bedroom door. Shipley’s brother Ralph is a handsome narcissist (@MYSMUGCAT) who meows his own name (“RAAAALPH. RAAAAAALPH!”) and always looks pleased with himself. Janet is a dumb but worry-free companion who resourcefully avoids swallowing the medication for a failing heart and overactive thyroid gland. Roscoe is a living cartoon of a kitten, unusually self-sufficient but obsessed with towels.
The Bear is the real star, though. There’s a reason the Twitter account is so popular. Elderly, polite, poetic, and a pacifist, his eyes could break a heart of stone, and the book shows that it’s not just his countenance that holds all the anguish of the world. His movements through life—from being found on the shoulder of a highway to losing all his fur (twice) to the rejected affections of the next-door cat to the way he doesn’t quite fully engage with Cox’s other pets—all set The Bear apart from the normal cat world into a sad sphere he seems to inhabit all by himself.
At times, Cox’s cats are a device used to interrogate his own foibles and dilemmas. At others, the cats are all their own creatures, personalities embodied in the frustrating temperaments of small, unaccountable animals. Anyone who has ever loved a cat will sympathize with Cox’s adoration of and annoyance with life with them. But while you may come for The Bear, you’ll stay for the author; framed around the centerpiece of his personable cats, the story’s true protagonist is Cox. His acute understanding of cats is entertaining and poignant, but those cute pet stories stand on the foundation of a talented and deeply thoughtful writer.