A review by Ruth Sims
Forward Magazine Book of the Year Award, Bronze Medal
I read KING OF CATS by Blake Fraina three or four years ago, and only recently realized I had not added that review to my review blog—an oversight I truly regret.
I hope readers will not keep prejudices against the iUniverse label—often, alas, justified– from reading this book. It’s true there are some errors that a traditional publisher’s editor would have caught, and that’s unfortunate, but they don’t distract from the intense, dark stories.
This is no light read. It has layer upon layer of meanings beneath the obvious and should carry a warning: ENGAGE BRAIN BEFORE READING. If the book has a weak part, it’s the first novella which is told in first person by a wannabe filmmaker obsessed first by a painting, and then by a kid named Elliott. It’s the only novella in first person in the book, and Sam, the filmmaker, doesn’t appear in any of the other novellas.
Five novellas make up KING OF CATS. In terms of time, they leapfrog. The first, “King of the Cats”, about the filmmaker, takes place in 2002. The second “The Bargain” is set in 2001. Number 3, “Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter” is 1995. Number 4 “My Father’s House” is 2003. And “Hidden History” is in 1987. It’s not as off-putting as it sounds. When you read them, it actually makes sense. It’s like the famous movie scene with the fun house mirrors—this splinters off of that which splinters off something else…
On the surface, the rest of the novellas are about “sex, drugs, & rock ’n’ roll.” But under the music of electric guitars, drums, drugs, and promiscuity there is a seething pit of anger and physical abuse, neediness and tragedy, and most heartbreaking of all, the waste of potential in human life.
This is a complex book with characters that you alternately feel sorry for, despise, sympathize with, sometimes love, but will never forget. Elliott, the pathological baby-faced liar and hustler. Adam, the singer who spends a lot of time trying to convince himself he’s not gay just because he has sex with men. The character who will never leave your mind is Jimmy, the guitarist—to his fans and contemporaries he’s so cool he’s a gay Fonzie on drugs, somebody who gets what he wants when he wants it. They don’t see the tortured soul that looks through his eyes. By the end of the last novella, “Hidden History” you have seen Jimmy’s soul being twisted like a lone tree in the wind.
Highly recommended to adult readers.
I hope we may soon see another book from Blake Fraina, a vastly talented writer.
Ruth Sims has lived her entire life in conservative, Republican, tiny-town Midwest USA surrounded by corn, wheat, and soybean fields. It’s a strange place indeed for a Liberal Democrat to have sprouted. Like Emily Dickenson she’s never seen a moor and never seen the sea but she’s seen plenty of silos, Amish buggies, whitetails, and amber waves of grain. She’ll battle anybody who says the flat, fertile land of the Midwest doesn’t have its own kind of beauty.
Though many years past schooldays, her education is continuous and far-ranging, with interests ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, from Shakespeare to groan-inducing puns and limericks. Her library has many shelves of history, biography, drama, and reference books. Her special love of drama is apparent in The Phoenix, and her passion for Classical and Romantic music comes to life in Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story.
Words, imagination, books, music, and writing have always been the means by which she could slip into more exciting lives than her own. When the chance finally came for her to write full-time, she was able to focus on the stories that have been in her head for years. Her many characters are thankful to escape; it was getting crowded in there.