Weekly Report Card 4: Best American Science-Fiction, The Finkler Question, and A Street Cat Named Bob
Books. The Best American Science-Fiction and Fantasy 2016, edited by Karen Joy Fowler. A fine selection which I enjoyed while I was reading it, but now all I can remember is the final story, The Great Silence by Ted Chiang. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, the Booker winner from some years ago, about three friends pondering Jewishness comically and seriously, often at the same time.
The real Bob and Bowen
Movie. A Street Cat Named Bob is the true story of a homeless junkie in London whose life gets radically better after he is adopted by the ginger tomcat of the title. I’m the target market for this movie, and I expected it to be sappy, wringing tears out of every other scene, and putting the audience through all sorts of emotional blackmail. To my surprise it’s a solid, fairly realistic tale of a man close to rock bottom who finds the strength to climb out. Not because the cat gives him magical powers—although Bob the cat is so calm he has to be a Zen master—but because having to take care of another creature forces him to get out of his own head and think of somebody else for a change. If he can’t get his act together, how can he look after the cat?
The movie directed by Roger Spottiswoode from the books by James Bowen gets a vital fact about cats right: the cat chooses you. Cats are genetically the same as their alpha predator cousins the lions and tigers, but they now use their formidable hunting skills to zero in on the humans who can feed and shelter them.
The movie Bob, played mostly by the real Bob
A movie about a cat is by nature cute, but this one refrains from piling on the cuteness. When we first meet Bowen, played with empathy and charm by Luke Treadaway (not Frankenstein from Penny Dreadful but his twin), his life is genuinely horrible. He’s filthy, hungry, sleeping on the street, competing with rats for food from the dumpster. You can feel his shame at the indignities he must endure. He could disappear any minute, and no one would care. (Fortunately the junkie does not live in the Philippines.)
A social worker (Joanne Froggatt from Downton Abbey) puts him in supported housing, which is where he encounters Bob. He also meets an attractive neighbor (Ruta Gedmintas from The Strain) who is, conveniently, a volunteer at an animal welfare clinic. But they are all minor characters next to Bob, played mostly by the actual Bob. Bowen’s life doesn’t improve instantly, he still has a lot of crap to deal with, but we watch him gain a sense of purpose and then the strength to meet that purpose. A Street Cat Named Bob works because it makes us believe that a man and a cat can save each other.