Something to pet the cat about

By Naomi Louder

A review of Something To Pet The Cat About by Elisabeth Belliveau

Published on May 1, 2006

Something To Pet The Cat About
Elisabeth Belliveau

conundrum pess
$19.95
paper
176pp
1-894994-12-4

In spite of their titles, Elisabeth Belliveau’s collection of whimsical illustrations and text deals with desire, while Julie Doucet’s graphic classic (with added, previously unreleased material) is mostly about fear. You could safely send Something to pet the cat about to your grandmother for Christmas. As for My Most Secret Desire…well, it depends on your grandmother.

Julie Doucet takes the complex and chaotic flotsam of urban life and splatters it across the page in black ink. In this series of dreams and fantasies, interspersed with half-hearted musings on what it’s all about, the author depicts the crude and bizarre tangents of her unconscious mind.

“I must say I’m not too much in the habit of taking dreams as some sending for guidance for my everyday life,” remarks one incarnation of the Julie-character, in her finest Franco-English. The dream in question contains an unusually coherent thought : “Trust no one.” This verdict is unsurprising, coming as it does towards the end of a series of dreams where a co-worker stabs her in the eyeball with a syringe in a back alley, her mother sends her bra-shopping the day of a nuclear blast, and, on waking out of dire circumstances, she is attacked by hordes of household objects.

Several strips revolve around transgender anxiety. In one, she wakes up in the hospital after an unpremeditated sex-change, and takes a stroll, encountering Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees. Another fantasy begins “I would have a useful penis…” And yes, she exploits the full meaning of the word graphic, but the sense of humour here is too strong to leave much room for voyeurism. Not all the dreams are comedic though – some are downright terrifying.

Julie’s first nightmare is dated 1988, and her book calls to mind the recessed 90s–grunge, booze, drugs, and unemployment. Elisabeth Belliveau is of a younger generation of artists. Something to pet the cat about is what the title might suggest — barring the fact that the first three sections feature dogs, moose, birds, and a hamster, with hardly a feline in sight. This in itself is amusing, and ties in with the book’s all-encompassing question, What do I want? Belliveau expresses this sometimes in illustrated list-form, sometimes only as a palpable aura of longing in sketches and line drawings of views from the window, views of the kitchen table, ships, flowers and wildlife, with the accompanying text. Split up into four sections, the book runs through meditations on family, uprootedness, love and the lack thereof.

The impression is of an artist’s diary, nearly unexpurgated. There’s something appealing about the immediacy and honesty of these pages. The drawings are evocative and charming, and an occasional self-consciousness in her writing is mitigated by self-satire.

Julie Doucet’s graphic novel is a world of bold steps and disastrous results, twisted by anxiety. Her dreams are extraordinary and extreme, no worse for being left open to interpretation. My Most Secret Desire definitely leans towards a mayhem-over-meaning aesthetic, but the obsessions that emerge are interesting. It’s hilarious, and horrifying.

Elisabeth Belliveau’s drawings gently capture people in odd moments, unsuspecting. Her perspective is detached, cautious, and spare, seeking out meaning in the mundane. Her moments of lyrical clarity are lovely, but too few. Something to pet the cat about is a bit tangential in nature. A more cohesive work would definitely be something to look forward to.
mRb

Naomi Louder's poems have appeared in "The Fiddlehead" and "The New Quarterly."

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