Friday, 13 March 2015

#26 - "A Street Cat Named Bob: How One Man and His Cat Found Hope on The Streets" by James Bowen and Garry Jenkins

A Cash-grab Named Bob


By Admiral Fartmore

(book chosen by Beau Dashington)

Editor's Note: I can't think of a half-decent pun about the word 'pussy', so lets just pretend I did. Something along the lines of "that homeless guy sure has a nice pussy" or "maybe the author wouldn't be homeless if they sold their pussy" or something like that.

I cry very easily when it comes to sentimentalist bullshit. I don’t really know why, because I’m not especially teary at weddings or funerals or any other significantly emotion real-life event - but if you put on a Thai insurance commercial, I’ll be weeping in minutes.  I know better, but I can’t help myself: the cheaper the story is, the harder it gets me. And so when my eyes welled up about halfway through “A Street Cat named Bob,” I knew I had a real piece of shit on my hands.

A Street Cat Named Bob is the biographical story of former heroin addict James Bowen, who adopted a stray cat while going through a recovery program. The book begins with Bowen working as a busker and going through methadone treatment, when he finds a cat (Bob) outside of his apartment. From that point onward, Bowen’s life gradually improves as he completes the recovery program, learns responsibility through caring for Bob, reconnects with his family, and gets lots of attention for taking a cute cat on leash with him wherever he goes. During this period, the cat gains mild internet celebrity. As a result, Bowen is approached by a publisher who thinks that his story could sell very well. The end.

And sell very well it did.

I will start by saying that Bowen’s full recovery from his heroin addiction is admirable. I dunno if you’ve heard, but it is not an easy thing to do. He also seems like a fairly responsible pet owner. I respect him for that. I am glad he has found success.

But I have a hard time really having much respect for this book. It’s awkwardly-written, shallow, and far too long – even at 170 pages. Routine trips to the vet take up dozens of pages, as does Bowen’s constant speculation on “where Bob came from” or “what kind of life he had before we met” (which, by the way, all builds up to absolutely nothing. You never find out where Bob came from.) There is no real suspense, no challenges, and hardly any character growth or meaningful self-reflection. Bowen repeats himself a lot, mostly with mundane filler. If you were to cleave out about 80% of the book and have the remainder rewritten as a short story, this could probably be an interesting main piece in a magazine, but in its current form it just drags and drags and drags.

Bob, like other cats, is cute.

As for Bob himself, he’s a cat and cats are cute. I like cats, I’ve lived with literally dozens. I'm not some animal hater like Peartree. But I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about Bob. He’s very close with his owner, which is sweet, but it’s not like he went to space or something. But the love for this cat is crazy.

After reading this, I’m mostly frustrated with the publisher and co-author Garry Jenkins, who I’m willing to bet had most of the creative control over this project. The accounts of life on the streets are simplistic and censored, like a children’s version of Oliver Twist. Despite Bowen’s recovery from a heroin addiction ostensibly being one of the central story arcs, its use is hardly mentioned. The same goes for the methadone which he used while undergoing treatment. Bowen is a heavy smoker in real life, but the book doesn't make one reference to his smoking. Only bad guys swear, and the words are actually starred out (are you f****** kidding me?) Bowen's run-ins with the law are ambiguous and absolve his character of all guilt or wrongdoing. All in all, the whole thing just really feels like it’s pandering to an audience that wants a feel-good book with a cute cat in it.

What frustrates me most about this is how it seems to mirror one of the main challenges Bowen faced while living on the street: people were repulsed by his lifestyle, and most of the public preferred to pretend that he did not exist. It’s oddly fitting that in his account of those times, so much information is censored for the sake of making the story digestible for people that buy books at grocery stores. While professing to break down stigmas, the book helps reaffirm them by reminding us that we just shouldn't talk about some things. It’s a window into a heroin addict’s life, sure, but it’s been tinted rose so that you don’t hurt your eyes.

But this book is a beloved best seller, and I guess I’m in the minority for disliking it. So in the interest of providing a fair and balanced report, I've decided to also lend a voice to some people who really enjoyed the book. Here are some quotes from 5-star Amazon reviews:

“I purchased this book after seeing a short about Bob on Icanhazcheesburger.”
- Binkz85

 “Sometimes you get the feeling that you are going thru this life by yourself and no one gets it. Nice to know...Someone gets it. Kinda funny it's a Cat.“
- SD Gillespie

“A great light read. No sad part or ending. Distracting from the ills of the day.”
- Curtis Ewing

“I checked this book out at our library when I saw the picture of the cat on the cover”
- Letta Meinen

- Muse of Time and Science

So there you are. If you frequent "icanhazcheesburger" and are looking for an unputdownable light read with no sad parts and a picture of a cat on the cover, "A Street Cat Named Bob" is for you. And if you are curious about what part of the book made me cry, it was the part where Bowen reconnects with his mother and she breaks down and says everything was her fault. The maternal love and self-sacrifice just got to me. The fact that she was willing to take all the blame despite not writing one word of this Piece of Shit - it was moving. Incredible.


  1. "Sell your pussy to get ahead." Guys, I'm ashamed of you.

  2. Also, this is a truly brilliant review. I'm honestly so impressed! 10/10.