Although he admits to being too squeamish to become an animal doctor, publishing veteran Peter Gethers, author of the bestselling cat trilogy about his beloved cat Norton, has written Ask Bob (Holt, Aug.), a new novel about a vet and pet columnist in New York City who discovers that the best relationships are often the most surprising.
Ask Bob is a celebration of the complexity of human relationships. “I really like this book,” says Gethers, who has been an editor at Random House for 30 years and heads its book-to-film department, Random House Studio. “It has romance, fun, pathology, agony, and joy, and it has a message: love doesn’t solve all our problems, but it’s a good place to start.” Dr. Bob Heller, the novel’s protagonist, is well-known in Manhattan not only for being a beloved veterinarian but also for his “Ask Dr. Bob” newspaper advice column for pet lovers. As the story unfolds, the reader learns that Bob understands animals a lot better than he does people, especially when tragedy strikes in his personal life just as he thinks he’s figured out how to thrive in the human world as easily as he does among cats, dogs, and hamsters. The novel is interspersed with letters to the “Ask Dr. Bob” column, which the vet responds to within the context of the plot itself, a clever device that reveals the growth of Bob’s character.
One of Gethers’s inspirations for Ask Bob was his own vet in New York. The other was Roman Polanski, with whom Gethers worked in 1981 on the director’s memoir. “It wasn’t that long after the Manson murders,” Gethers says, “and during the course of this project Roman and I were talking one day about relationships. He said it would be almost impossible to have a real relationship with someone [else] because his wife [Sharon Tate] died when everything was still perfect. When Roman told me, ‘You can’t compete with the ghost of perfection,’ I never forgot it.” It is this idea that informs the story and relationships in Ask Bob.
Gethers compares Ask Bob to the work of Nick Hornby and the 2011 romantic comedy film One Day. He hopes it will appeal to readers who appreciate intelligent, realistic romances. “Love of animals is wonderful, but it’s easy and simple and thus has limits,” says Gethers, who lives in New York City with two Scottish Fold cats he adopted after Norton died. “Love between people is complicated—difficult and painful and often agonizing—and much more satisfying and gratifying.”
Gethers signs Ask Bob at 2 p.m. today at the Macmillan booth (1557).