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The Catsitters [Paperback]

James Wolcott
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews Review

Pride and Prejudice meets Swingers, and Austen wins handily. It's hard to believe this mild-mannered novel was written by the same James Wolcott who produces such withering cultural commentary in the pages of Vanity Fair. Yet The Catsitters, while purporting to depict the cutthroat world of Manhattan dating, is ultimately a sweet-tempered example of the classic Austen plot. Which is to say, our hero searches high and low for true love, only to find that it was right under his nose all along.

That's right, our hero. Instead of an Emma or an Elizabeth, we get Johnny Downs, a beefy, almost-out-of-work actor who never scores the romantic lead in either life or theater. We also get his caustic friend Darlene, who runs his life over the phone from her hometown in Georgia. This long-distance kibitzer orchestrates Johnny's dates, moderates his behavior, and ultimately sabotages his most successful love affair. And what about the titular catsitters? They turn out to be a couple of Darlene's girlfriends, who come to New York to look after Johnny's cats for a weekend and don't bother to leave, further compounding his romantic problems.

Johnny is the kind of character who seems to move through wet cement; he's likable enough, but we keep wishing he'd get his act together. In the end, he does, to the reader's rudimentary satisfaction. Still, the book is most appealing when Wolcott forgets he's writing a novel and slips into critic mode. There are some happily acerbic lines skewering the theater. An actress in a period play, for example, speaks "as if she were christening a ship." A director greets the protagonist "with both hands extended palms-down, a Fellini-like greeting that directors ought to stop imitating." The depiction of the life of a New York actor is thick with realistic detail; the romance is pure make-believe. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Fans of Vanity Fair's famously mordant critic might be puzzled by the rather mild tone of his first novel. Johnny Downs is that echt Manhattan figure, the actor/bartender: theater is where his heart is; tending bar and appearing in commercials pay the bills. While attending a conference on theater in Athens, Ga., he meets bat-watching grad student Darlene Ryder, who's just quirky enough to pique his interest. Scotching the idea of any sexual relationship between them, Darlene installs herself as a sort of long-distance relationship guru a feminine superego to Johnny's masculine id. Whenever he makes a romantic move, she is always a telephone call away, coaching him. After he is dumped by his current girlfriend, Nicole, the Darlene/Johnny interface gets out of hand she orchestrates his parties, his dates and even arranges for a friend of hers to sit for his beloved cat, Slinky, which leads to all kinds of trouble. Darlene's boundless supply of advice and Johnny's gullible acceptance of it positions the novel as the male counterpart to Melissa Bank's Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing. But when Darlene finally goes too far, sabotaging a romance that actually might work out on its own, Johnny finds out just what their friendship is all about. Although Wolcott's premise shows satiric possibility and his insights into the world of struggling actors are dead-on, the novel handicaps itself by giving Darlene's monomania center stage. Her opinions on everything from aftershave to floor tiles will exhaust readers' patience long before she exhausts Johnny's. (On-sale: June 27)

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This first novel by Vanity Fair literary critic Wolcott takes the typical boy-meets-girl romantic fiction scenario several steps beyond the average. Johnny Downs is a struggling New York actor who is completely bewildered and befuddled by the motives of the female sex. One week, he returns home to find that his girlfriend Nicole has not only neglected to provide adequate care for his cat, Slinky, but that she is also seeing someone else. Fortunately, his long-distance Southern confidante and friend, Darlene Rider, is there to offer him sassy and clever advice. Darlene guides him through several romantic entanglements that just never seem to work out the way they should. By now readers might assume that Darlene will turn out to be his one true love but not so. This novel has so many hilarious twists and turns that it keeps even the most jaded romance reader turning the pages. Wolcott expertly blends his careening plot with wit, sarcasm, and insight. A secondary storyline dealing with Slinky will also charm and touch almost any cat lover. An essential purchase for every public library with contemporary fiction readers.
- Margaret Hanes, Sterling Heights P.L., MI
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Johnny Downs is a New York bartender who longs to be a successful actor. Dumped by his girlfriend for reasons that he can't quite grasp, Johnny licks his wounds and takes solace from Darlene Ryder, a straight-talking graduate student whose interest in Johnny is romantic without being sexual: Darlene becomes a kind of relationship coach, offering him counsel in matters of the heart. Wolcott, known for his nasty and hilarious journalistic criticism, is significantly more housebroken in his début as a novelist. His wit remains intact—particularly when skewering the world of out-of-work actors—but in the end Johnny's romantic life doesn't make for compelling reading: like much else here, he is at once too familiar and too blurry to leave much of an impression.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

From Booklist

In this world, there are two kinds of people: the dumpers and the dumped. Some novels would seem to indicate that women are always the dumped and men always the dumpers. But Johnny Downs has a different story to tell. Dumped by girlfriend after girlfriend for obscure reasons, Johnny needs to make some changes to become marriage material. He enlists the help of Darlene, a long-distance friend who counsels him on the tactical minutia of the dating scene. Will Johnny end up with the charming and lovable photographer Annette or the beautiful but cruel-hearted Claudia? Readers familiar with this genre will know the answer long before it's revealed, but the getting there is the joy of this comedic romp. Darlene has a grammarian's eye for conversational semantics and a general's passion for tactical battlefield maneuvers, and her charm offers ample laughs. The dialogue is sometimes a bit too clever for its own good, but the story is often laugh-out-loud funny, and the ending will give hope to the dumped, male or female. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Currently the cultural critic for Vanity Fair, James Wolcott has also been a staff writer at The Village Voice, Esquire, Harper's, and The New Yorker. He lives with his wife, Laura Jacobs, and their two cats, Roland and Jasper, in New York City.
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