The Sophisticated Cat: 2a Gathering of Stories, Poems, and Miscellaneous Writings about Cats

Joyce Carol Oates, Author, Daniel Halpern, Editor, Joyce Carol Oates, Editor Dutton Books $23 (400p) ISBN 978-0-525-93522-3

In his introduction to this mostly delightful anthology, Antaeus editor Halpern stresses that cats are not unattached, independent creatures. Yet while many of these stories, poems and essays by 99 literary figures dispel misconceptions of the cat as aloof and uncommunicative, a surprising number of selections (by Faulkner, Rilke, Maupassant and others) propagate those same myths. Among the stories, standouts are Chekhov's tale about the impossibility of forcing a cat to do something against its wishes, P. G. Wodehouse's humorous portrayal of a ``cat-pecked'' artist, Ambrose Bierce's witty fables on cats transcending human expectations and pieces by Twain, Hemingway, Saki and James Herriot. Poetry selections include classics by Christopher Smart, Edward Lear and Vachel Lindsay as well as modern verse by Ted Hughes, John Updike and others for whom the cat is a touchstone teaching us how to achieve equilibrium, how to live. The weakest section, ``Contemporary Storytellers on Cats,'' includes sketches and stories by co-editor Oates, Alice Adams and Francine Prose. The volume ends on a sour note with Roy Blount Jr.'s wrongheaded, ill-informed comparison of cats and dogs (``A cat can't smile''; ``cats are less demanding emotionally ''). BOMC and QPB selections. (Nov.)