~by Blake Fraina
King of Cats: A Life in Five Novellas by Blake Fraina is the first book that I have received through LibraryThing's recently established Member Giveaway program--a compliment to their Early Reviewers program. LibraryThing members browse the current listing of available books and select which random drawings to enter. King of Cats caught my attention for several reasons. Probably foremost--copies were being offered by an author who actually uses and participates on LibraryThing. But what really interested me in the book were the musical and gay elements.
King of Cats is made up of five novellas, each connected somehow to Jimmy Lyons--aspiring rock guitarist and mostly closeted gay man, he is a British citizen illegally living in the United States. The first novella, "King of the Cats," takes place in the fall of 2002. Stylistically different from the following stories, it is also the least directly related to Jimmy, although his presence is certainly felt. The novellas provide glimpses into the lives and personalities of Jimmy, his fellow band members, and those connected to them. In "The Bargain," taking place in the spring of 2001, the band is finally starting to make a real name for itself. Jimmy and Adam first meet and struggle for control of the group in "Kissing the Gunner's Daughter" early in 1995, while in the summer of 2003 they are dealing with the bands rise to fame and the following fallout in "My Father's House." Finally, Fraina takes the readers back to the beginning in "Hidden History," starting in 1987 and following Jimmy as he grows up and establishes who he really is.
It was an interesting technique to present the interconnected stories out of chronological order. I found it to be very effective as bits and pieces fell into place and motivations were revealed, though I think some people would find it confusing and disjointed. King of Cats was not an easy book to read in that everyone was so horrifyingly treated. The characters are great characters, but they are generally not very nice people at all. Compelling, interesting, and intense, yes, but they are so often heartbreakingly horrible to one another. I felt very much like a voyeur as I was reading the book--watching tragedies unfold, peering into very personal lives, and finding it very hard to look away.
King of Cats is a difficult book for me to recommend to a wide audience, but it is actually quite good. My favorite story was probably the first one in the book, "King of the Cats." In it, the character that intrigued me the most, Elliott Carpenter (a pathological liar and manipulator), was introduced. He remains the most mysterious person throughout the book, though by the end some of his true self begins to be revealed. The relationships between characters, while fraught with turmoil, can be at times quite touching. Explicit sex scenes are included and are always intense and often violent, but are integral to the stories. I found King of Cats to be compelling and gut-wrenching. The characters, while not particularly likeable, were fascinating. Emotionally, it is not an easy book, but it is a good one.