Author: Jesse McKinnell

Publisher: Shine Box Publishing

ISBN: 9780692101858

Dead Cats and Other Reflections on Parenthood is a first novel by short-story writer Jesse McKinnell. As McKinnell states in the Acknowledgements, love of music and a sick sense of humor drives most of the narrative of the book which he thanks his dad for passing this onto him.

The dark comic offbeat narrative is set in Maine, and features Joel Peterson who is a very successful dentist and will do anything to preserve his cushy lifestyle. However, there are ramifications to one's actions, which apparently Joel is about to learn the hard way. This is a story of trust, the emotional ties that bind, the fragile state of mind when a husband and father betrays his family and wants back in after he faces poverty, unemployment, divorce and homelessness.

As the yarn unfolds, we learn that Joel has recently been banished by his wife to their guest house behind his home, which had been built-in anticipation that his mother-in-law would need to move in one day. Next, we read about his appearance in a court room proceedings where he is holding up the carcass of his family's dead cat, Frisker, which he intentionally ran over with his Porsche while under the influence of lidocaine. The judge is not sure what to make out of the entire situation and tells Joel that his performance in the court room, particularly that he is having a conversation with the cat, is unsettling. The judge believes that Joel and his wife should settle the matter between themselves and will meet with them in a months time.

We also learn of Joel's sadistic streak in performing dental surgery on one of his patients.

In addition, we notice Joel is delusional as he believes the ghost of rock star Kurt Cobain is his travelling companion who will help him regain his former lifestyle and return to his wife and daughters. Cobain, as many of you may or may not know, is remembered as one of the most iconic rock musicians in the history of alternative music and was one of the founders of the band Nirvana.

Joel promises himself that he will abstain from taking drugs, will no longer lie, there will not be any dead pets, he will stop obsessing about money, and there will be no screwed up priorities. He also tells himself that he will beg his wife for forgiveness and cry. His wife will forgive him and his daughters will be happy and fulfilled.

Unfortunately, matters don't turn out as planned and Joel reaches a point in his life where he is quickly spiralling downwards. He gets into a terrible accident with his Porsche that nearly cost him his life and winds up in a hospital with multiple wounds. While in the hospital, Joel undergoes toxicology screening on his urine as well as blood tests. The results are not exactly what Joel was hoping for as they found phencyclidine in his blood stream, which is going to have profound consequences concerning his divorce and custody rights. As a result, Joel finds himself  subject to restraining orders that prevents him from going back to his home and office as well as from visiting his children and wife. And if this is not enough, he also has his credit cards and bank accounts frozen. The judge also orders the two-hundred thousand dollars that is in his joint checking account with his wife is to be moved into her account solely. Not exactly a pretty picture and as we continue our read, Joel does reach the bottom of the barrel with neither money nor family.

McKinnell's novel is quite intelligent and thick with frank observations with a great comedic vein running through it. It is a witty commentary that tackles some serious themes concerning happiness and what it means. As in the case of Joel, there is today an obsessive desire to work long hours so as to keep up a privileged life style where we satisfy ourselves with the purchase of stuff that in most instances we don't need but nonetheless feel compelled to purchase. No doubt, this fallacy of consumerism where we are told that it will lead to satisfaction and contentment has been cultivated by the advertising industry. What we overlook is the effect it has on our families, communities and the environment, not to exclude our health.