cover image Cat Brushing

Cat Brushing

Jane Campbell. Grove, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6002-7

Campbell debuts at 80 with an accomplished collection centering the emotional and psychological lives of the elderly, delivering astute observations and sharp critiques, and restoring agency to characters who are routinely robbed of it. Foregrounding sexuality, “Susan and Miffy” depicts an 86-year-old woman as she develops an attraction to her younger caretaker. (“The lust of an old man is disgusting but the lust of an old woman is worse. Everyone knows that,” goes the opening line.) In the title story, the narrator contemplates the dispossession “of rights, of respect, of desire” while fearing her son is going to take away her beloved cat. Some of the stories take on a sci-fi tinge, as in “Schopenhauer and I,” wherein a character is given a robot to ward off loneliness and help her with daily tasks—and surveil her every move. While the plots are sometimes too heavily reliant on coincidence, as in “Lacrimae Rerum,” when a woman happens upon her long-ago ex-boyfriend’s funeral, and occasionally employ choppy dialogue (“I am leaving you. Our relationship is over. I am in love with Hils. I thought you knew. Everyone else knows”), Campbell succeeds in portraying the characters’ complex inner lives. Ripe with sensuality, this is full of vivid portraits. [em]Agent: Eleanor Birne, PEW Literary. (Aug.) [/em]