BOOKWORM: Cat fans will like ‘Mitten,’ despite the writing

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

You weren’t looking. Seriously, you weren’t.

You didn’t need another pet. The last one was gone, you put away the toys and you were making plans for a little travel.

Can’t do that with a pet.

But the classified ads fell open and though you weren’t looking (seriously!), you saw something in the “giveaways.” So much for that: the pet you weren’t looking for is now lying at your feet.

If you’ve ever loved an animal, you know they have a way of staying in your heart long after they’re gone. In the book “Citizen Mitten” by William Voedisch, you’ll read about a man and his cat.

Despite that his mother was asthmatic and allergic, Voedisch grew up with a succession of pets through the years. But when his father was recovering from a heart attack, a special cat became catalyst for Voedisch’s love of felines.

Many years later, divorced and living in Minneapolis, Voedisch was working hard and trying to woo a co-worker. It was she who found the stray they named Mitten and, to avoid roommate wars, he took the cat home.

Though beloved (and certainly indulged), Mitten was a troublemaker. Voedisch writes that he was a boxer and would beat up any dog he didn’t like. Mitten’s love of fish once got him in trouble and into a freezer (Voedisch performed a middle-of-the-night rescue) and Mitten was prone to running away when he didn’t like something. He was fond of “nursing” Voedisch and the cat never met ductwork he didn’t like. Still, despite that he could be a handful, Mitten was Voedisch’s cat, completely.

But when we bring home a puppy or kitten, we assume responsibility for its care and its dignified death. And, eventually, Mitten fell sick.

The basic premise of “Citizen Mitten” is cute. Voedisch is folksy and his tone is conversational, which makes reading this book somewhat like sitting down for an evening with a fellow animal lover.

The bad news is that this story rattles all over the place and it’s not just about a cat called Mitten.

Voedisch includes dozens of anecdotes about several dogs, a horse, other cats, rats and pets belonging to friends as well as yarns about protein drinks, poop and old radio, many of which included variations of the words “goof” and “nut.” All that made me wonder why the book was called “Citizen Mitten” in the first place.

What was really irritating, though, was Voedisch’s use of ever-changing, multiple nicknames. Though he includes a “Cast of Characters,” I spent way too much time attempting to understand who he was talking about on any given page. I’m still trying to figure out the secret identity of the individual named in the last line of this book.

I think animal lovers (particularly cat people) who read “Citizen Mitten” and can overlook new-writer-itis will be rewarded with a sweetly unpretentious tale of a man and his family, four-footed and otherwise. But if you demand slick, tight reading, look elsewhere.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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