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The Catsitters: A Novel Hardcover – June 26, 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (June 26, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060194146
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060194147
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,736,506 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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

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.


More About the Author

Born and raised in Maryland, James Wolcott is a columnist for Vanity Fair and has written for The New Republic, The London Review of Books, Bookforum, and many other publications still treading water. He--I mean, I--also have a blog at the Vanity Fair website, where I keep tabs on politics, Project Runway, Mad Men, the dance scene, books, birding, and generally make a nuisance of myself, but in a fun, passionate, caring way. My wife Laura Jacobs is a novelist (her latest is The Bird Catcher), a dance critic, and Vanity Fair writer, and we live a wacky sitcom life in Manhattan with our two ocicats, Henry and Veronica, who deserve their own spinoff series. We also have a small bungalow on the Delaware Bay side of the Jersey Shore, where I sleep on the screened-in back porch and harbor any cricket who happens to pop in. My memoir about the Seventies in NYC, those years of punk and Pauline Kael, was published in 2011 by Doubleday. And in the autumn of 2013, Doubleday published my bulging nonfiction collection Critical Mass, which received (if I may be immodest) a rave in The New York Times.

I have published two bestselling Kindle Singles: The Gore Supremacy, about the life and strife of writer-provocateur Gore Vidal, and Wild in the Seats, a recreation of the tumultuous first performance of Stravinsky-Nijinsky-Diaghilev's The Rite of Spring on its 100th anniversary.

I can be followed on Twitter: twitter.com/JamesWolcott

Customer Reviews

People don't really talk like they do in this book.
Roger Vinderlou
I did enjoy this book but I felt as though it were lacking a key element, and that element would have made this a better book.
Jill Kellar
James Wolcott is an extremely talented author with incredible insight into the femal mind.
Cara Fareri

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Brenda Gregoline on October 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't stand this book. The main character was uninteresting, the plot dragged, Wolcott alternately starves the reader of information or completely overshares (we get complete rundowns of movies Johnny Downs has seen, phone conversations he's had, and not one single moment of these paragraphs illuminates the character's inner workings.) There were also multiple copy editing errors in my edition (which I blame not so much on Wolcott, but on the folks at HarperCollins), and they were of the ignorant variety rather than simple typos: "trey" for the French word "tres," "prune" instead of "prude," etc. Overall a very poor effort. I read it to the end, but it was a struggle.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gooch McCracken on June 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
THE CATSITTERS is just the sort of thing that inspires me to plagiarize Pauline Kael. This isn't fiction-writing. It's piffle-making. It's not bad, mind you. It succeeds on its own light-comedy terms. But we're talking about something that exists in a cutesy-poo alternate-universe where close friends routinely address each other by their last names.
Roy Blount once put out a book called WHAT MEN DON'T TELL WOMEN. Wolcott's fic could've credibly been titled WHAT WOMEN DON'T TELL MEN. Cause that's the gimmick behind the Johnny/Darlene dialog. Which is the best thing on offer. The theater scenes are pretty dull because the stage-plays themselves are under-described. AN OASIS FOR FOOLS is an obvious parody of THE ICEMAN COMETH, but nothing is delivered. And Johnny's own stage-play is another blank.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
There was some cute parts of this book. The author obviously has a sense of humor. I can understand why some reviewers would give it five stars. However, I found the story to be flawed in ways that affects my review.
I found the chapter about Johnny Downs family completely gumpy until Downs offers to wash the dishes and then understands why his brothers' marraiges are not happy ones. I was almost more interested in his old friend's family problems than the rest of the story. There were characters in the novel that weren't well drawn. For instance, besides their looks, Caroline and Darlene could be the same person. If Kate is so pretty and nice why would she put up with Gleason, who's obviously much less attractive and appealing?
It's obvious that Wolcott thought women would grab this book off the shelves. There were characters he set them up to hate right away and he destroys what could be a more intelligent and likeable character (Darlene) by turning her into a loser. The story he tells is one that should be more useful to men but I doubt any them would ever read it unless their female companion left a copy of it on the back of the toilet seat.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. A. Brown on August 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
The Catsitters was a very quick read; light and fluffy, which seems to be the author's intent. The protagonist, Johnny Downs, is a pretty well fleshed-out character, neither good nor evil. A struggling actor who seems to be muddling through life with no particular direction and little sense of decisiveness, Johnny's relationships with women keep petering out. After the latest and most humiliating breakup, he allows his closest female friend, Darlene, to groom him into a "real man" by giving him lots of lectures about what women's behavior *really* means, etc. While the character of Johnny is believable, the character of Darlene seems to be a bit cliched, though this problematic element is more satisfactorily resolved near the end. The plot is a bit meandering, which in this case isn't such a bad thing, as there is a lot of action nonetheless, and the characters are well-written for the most part. Wolcott's take on the acting circuit in NYC is funny and is believable, as this area is where he puts his more famous, snarkier commentary to work. The emotion and romance never feels too cute, but still doesn't have the same bite as a Hornby novel, as far as stories told from a male perspective.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lawrence W. Prichard on November 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The jacket flap compares The Catsitters to Bridget Jones. I disagree. There is much less self pity in The Catsitters. There are a few similarities- both Bridget and Johnny are on the prowl for love in a big city, they are both funny, but that's about all the similarities.As a forty something single man, I could, and did, wince ruefully a few times. However, Johnny triumphs in the end, winding up with a very suitable woman.The last subplot centers on a play Johnny wrote, about a men's anger management group. This is a very thought provoking topic, and Wolcott handles it deftly and tartly. Wolcott is indeed a clear observer of contemprary American life.If there is a film adaptation, it may turn into a very good movie.
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By A Customer on September 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The Amazon.com review above is deceptive and false- this book no more compares to Jane Austen than it does to Bridget Jones, and those readers who believe the above review will be very disappointed. While Jane Austen or great literature this work is not, this is a very pleasant enjoyable escapist novel, easy to read, not taxing to the mind or brain. I had to keep checking the author's photograph to remind myself that yes, this novel about a paragon of an ideal male in the dating world was in fact conceived by a man, and therefore might conceivably exist if there are men who think that way! The protagonist is too perfect a man and too malleable by the manipulative Darlene. If Wolcott has created a male character that seems too good to be true, too sensitive, whom women will want to believe exists- he has done women a great disservice with his creation of the bitchy Darlene, a manipulative and unhappy character who is about as southern as the statue of Liberty. However, he has succeeded in writing the perfect beach book, an ultimately sweet novel and most pleasing is the fact that despite the above reviews, the plot and ending were not as predictable as one might think. This book marks quite a departure from Wolcott's acerbic witticisms about culture that he writes for the New Yorker- where is the great writing? but shows a sweet side I wouldn't have guessed he had. This is not a riotous comedy- there are no laugh out loud parts or moments of deep insight, nor does it define an age or a genre such as Bridget Jones has done, but I definately recommend this book for a light enjoyable read. But I also think Amazon ought to reconsider its above depiction of this book, which is far off the mark and thus does its patrons a disservice.
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