“One of My Nine Lives,” by Lucius, translated and with watercolor sketches by Anna Lowell Tomlinson. $12. Edition of 150 copies. Proceeds benefit the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard. Available at the Animal Shelter and Edgartown Books.
Human translation of anthropomorphic feline self-analytical autobiography occupies a proud and time-honored shelf in the annals of literature. Although the best-known works in this genre are generally intended for younger readers, “One of My Nine Lives,” based on a true story by Lucius (translated by his “mother,” Anna Lowell Tomlinson) gently lays a paw against the scratching-post of adult sensibility. Luckily, that paw is clawless.
Lucius is a six-(human)-year-old cat who begins a new life when he is adopted in 2009 by a person who later becomes his portraitist, ghostwriter, cook, chauffeur, confidant, and — as has been often remarked of cats in general — staff. Adoption whisks Lucius away from the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard in Edgartown and into a home where he must acclimate to a host of novel experiences invented by humans: tuna drinks, vacuum cleaners, grandchildren. These episodes are related with an appropriate level of self-conscious cat-neuroses, even if they betray a propensity toward self-improvement rare among felines:
“I show off my black, furry tummy to my friends. My mother wants to pet me there, but once she has given a quick, gentle rub to my tum-tum, I have to bite her. It is a very private area for me. She is understanding, but cannot help cuddling me. Maybe, someday I will change my mind.”
“One of My Nine Lives” is a study in the codependency that comes with living with a cat. Cat fanciers will chuckle at passages when they are not squirming uncomfortably in self-recognition. Even when couched in the fondest language, intimate moments between feline and Homo sapiens do not always fare well by light of day.
That said, the book does not shy away from harsh reality. Lucius has been surgically altered (“mutilated,” in his words) several ways. Yes he has been neutered, but the lasting psychological damage comes from de-clawing, a cruel procedure that surfaces time and again as the basis for insecurity-based behavior and quirks. Luckily, Lucius’ new mother is smart enough to keep him indoors and protected.
Xerographically printed in soft-cover by the Tisbury Printer, “One of My Nine Lives” is lavishly illustrated in beautiful full-page watercolors that are nicely reproduced on cream-colored paper. Painted with the kind of skill that comes from true love, the portraits of Lucius in his various environs and situations speak even more eloquently than his prose, and would make beautiful notecards or perhaps a wall calendar.