The Village Cats
The Village Cats, Lorraine DuChamp, Varinoma Press, San Luis Obispo, 2000.
The Village Cats is a first novel by a promising new author. Ms. DuChamp has followed the traditional advice given to new authors - write about what you know. According to the blurb Ms. DuChamp is a retired professor of English literature; her novel is set in the small town of Fairview and its small liberal arts college, Fairview College.
The village cats of the title are three female professors, Katie, Elena, and Myrna, who war against each throughout the novel in little campaigns of internecine bitchiness. Many of the lines and the little ploys are quite funny; one may doubt that their real life avatars are quite so witty.
The novel is not simply an academic version of slapstick humor. Beneath the banter is a serious exploration of why their relationships are suffused with cattiness. The conventional explanations - the tendency of intellectuals to drift into brittle acerbity, the promotion of criticism rather than creativity in academia, the college as a village in which small conflicts loom large - are all given play. There is more than a suggestion that the conventional explanations, while true enough in their way, do not suffice. DuChamp implies (she does not say so openly) that contempt is a drug and a temptation.
The evil genius, so to speak, of the novel is the townie, Pamela Witherspoon. Pamela weaves in and out of the narrative, mouthing platitudes which are the targets of irritated sarcasm on the part of all and sundry. Oddly enough Pamela never quite comes to life as a person. This is a deliberate ploy on the part of the author - the viewpoint is that of the three cats (and the supporting cast) who see her as a stereotype rather than a person. There is more than a hint that their genuine distaste stems from Pamela being a reminder to each of them of environments that they have escaped from.
Although the three cats are the principal characters there is a veritable rabble of minor supporting characters. There is the long winded professor Maxwell of whom it is said that whenever he opens his mouth to utter a sentence a paragraph comes out. Jed, the town drunk, decorates scenes with ethnic aphorisms. Richard Downing, a clerk in the registar's office, regularly corrects everyone on their morality whilst not practicing his own. Lewis Jones, the would be author who never writes, pontificates at parties and consistently misses the point of everyone else's discussion.
Ms. DuChamp clearly has a keen eye for character and a sensitivity to the motives and sensibilities that people do not talk about. It is to be hoped that in her future novels she will paint on a broader canvas and that her genius does not lie solely in the depiction of petite academia.
Despite appearances this is not a book review. Varinoma press does not exist; if there is an author named Lorraine DuChamp she doubtless never wrote a book called The Village Cats. In actuality it is a sardonic commentary on the newsgroup, rec.arts.books.
This page was last updated May 1, 2000.