If Susan Fromberg Schaeffer had written The Autobiography of
Foudini M. Cat to convince non-catlovers of the relative merits
of the species, this short novel would not land neatly on its feet.
But Schaeffer seems to have intended nothing of the sort. Rather, she's
written a little story that ought to touch the hearts of those
who have ever lived with a cat. Given that a big galoot of a dog ultimately
becomes the title character's best friend, humans whose families have
included dogs and cats simultaneously are those who will appreciate
Foudini the most. A limited audience, but then no novel will attract
An orphaned kitten tries desperately to fend for himself in a basement
laundry room. Too young to catch the occasional
mouse crossing his path but imbued with a deep distrust of people,
the kitten eludes capture by the well-meaning woman who discovers him
and leaves him milk-softened cat food to keep him from starving. One
day, his eyes gummed shut with infection, he staggers out from behind
the dryer when he smells the food and is apprehended. He is well aware
that he will be eaten, that the woman has just been fattening him up,
for all cats who have lived in the wild have the memory-dreams of men
and women coming after them with knives and forks.
The kitten is not eaten. He is taken to an animal hospital where
he terrorizes the staff. The woman who captured him would have kept
him, but finds herself allergic. The kitten narrowly escapes being put
to sleep (the meaning of which he doesn't understand until later) when
a woman whose own cat has just died adopts him. Foudini does not allow
himself to be tamed -- as if that were ever in the nature of any cat.
He hides in a locked room under a chest of drawers,
submitting to the woman's touch only when hunger drives him out to
eat the delicious-smelling food she prepares for him. To make matters
even worse, there lurks right outside the door a monstrous, drooling
dog who, of course, wants nothing more than to eat a tasty cautionless
Foudini eventually acquaints himself with the dog, and
the two animals become the light of life for each other. Foudini's dog
teaches him the ways of the more limited world that is his now. He must
name the people (Foudini chooses "Warm" for the woman, "Pest" for the
man). He must discover his Assigned Person -- who is "Warm," naturally.
Foudini comes to accept his lot in life, making the trips from Cold
House in the city to Mouse House in the country and back again, waiting
out with dread uncertainty the weeks when Warm and Pest leave him and
the dog in the care of amateur others while they vacation, playing with
the dog or just lying amiably between the dog's slackly open jaws. A
time will come, though, when the light of Foudini's life will begin to
grow dim, and the cat will face the hardest ordeal of his colorful
young life: going on after the one he loves most is gone.
Foudini relates his memoirs in his own voice, for the reason of
instructing his flighty new housemate, a one-year-old female cat
named Grace, in the hardships and hard truths of being a cat. He
tells her of the dream visits he's had from the earliest people-assigned
cats, of the importance of knowing one's place in the world, of the
sacrifices made for him that he can never repay. When Grace isn't
listening, Foudini laments her fuzzy-headed ways. When Grace talks
to Warm, Warm cat-talks back, in her human ignorance saying ridiculous
"Have that muffin?" Grace asks. "Have that fish? Have
"Male cat smell!" says Warm.
"Have that ham?" says Grace.
"Alarm! Alarm!" says Warm.
They are a tower of babble, those two.
The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat might never have
gotten published if it had been written by a first-time author, for
its audience is indeed limited and the writing is not utterly enthralling.
Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, though, has a track record. She's written ten other novels, including
Anya and The Madness of a Seduced Woman, as
well as having authored five books of poetry. Bottom line: if you
like cats or even once liked cats, you'll probably like this
book. If you've read others of Schaeffer's works, you have a better
than average chance of liking this book. If you match either of the above
profiles and want a quick but touching read, Foudini M. Cat should fit