It’s easy to tell when a book has been written from the heart — it’s got a genuine quality that shines from every page.“Furry Paw, Third Claw,” by Barry Jackson, is just such a book. Though it is a novel, it draws heavily on Jackson’s life and the many cats that, willingly or not, he came to know and share his home with.
Told from the human point of view, the cats nonetheless dominate the narrative. Like many men, when Dean Parker meets Melissa, the love of his life, his choice was to accept her, cats and all, or face life without her. He grudgingly accepts the two cats into his home, secretly hoping he can somehow get rid of them or — a hope even more vain — change Melissa.
He uses lots of humor to tell of his secret battle with the cats to be the dominate animal in his own home, but it is the humor of hindsight. This is a serious story, involving quite a bit of loss and heartache.
The novel really is about Parker’s journey out of a lonely childhood darkened by the knowledge his mother didn’t want him to an adulthood in which he learns to be a loving family man with a deeper understanding of himself and the cosmos. Along the way, nearly a dozen cats come in and out of his life — each with lessons to impart.
These lessons aren’t easy, nor are they conveyed with a sweet purr and a cuddly demeanor. We can’t imagine many men putting up with the spraying, shedding, smelly litter boxes, yowling, clawing and generally untamed behavior that Parker endures. Melissa is a rescuer, quick to adopt street cats, feral kittens and felines with serious wounds or illnesses. At one point, Parker calculates that over the course of their marriage, he and Melissa have spent $121,000 caring for their cats. (And there would be still more to come!)
And it’s not long before four cats at a time becomes the norm in their household. Parker eventually begins to appreciate their better qualities — and love Melissa all the more for her generous heart. The real turning point for him comes, though, when their son Craig is diagnosed with autism and one cat in particular, Dash, becomes the boy’s friend, companion and pathway into the wider world.
Looking back on his life toward the end of the novel, Parker comments,
“I believe it was my destiny to live my adult life with Melissa, Craig, and the cats. Cats came into my life in the same way I found Melissa and Theo [a friend], by chance or by fate. They recognized my moods and helped me just by being there with their love that knew no limits. However, life with the kitties was not always roses: hairballs in shoes, sinks used as litter pans, a dead vole brought to my pillow, birds carted into the house to be shredded beyond recognition, and tens of thousands of dollars of vet bills. It was always easy to forgive the cats for their transgressions because they were innocent. Forgiving people was not as easy.”
The title of the novel, “Furry Paw, Middle Claw” means just what you think it might. This is a realistic book; Jackson doesn’t make any attempt in the novel to get inside his cats’ heads or sentimentalize them. He describes their behaviors, good and bad, and their effects on Dean Parker and his family. Parker’s transformation into cat lover is gradual, therefore believable, and never quite total — just like Parker’s coming to terms with his emotionally abusive childhood and the place he makes for himself in the world.
Jackson, a CPA who has served a chief operating officer of several New York City law firms (according to his officials biography), live in New Jersey with his wife and four cats. This is his first novel. While his writing in spots shows the greenness of a new author, the novel is very readable and rewarding.