Rating: 3.75 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Zach is formerly obese and he managed to survive a revenge-porn-esque bullying that both outed him to his entire school and had his fundamentalist parents racking their brains for conversion camps. Ultimately, his mom decided to homeschool Zach for his last year of high school. Her goal was to help him get closer to “Jaysus” and pray the gay away. Through it all, Zach learned that he needed to sublimate his entire self to survive. So when he graduated, Zach was ready to put as much distance between himself, his family, and the whole high school trauma, and so he decided to go to college in Canada.
After a few semesters in Toronto, Zach’s started to come out of his shell. Forty pounds lighter and with some experience in the relationship field, he feels confident that returning to his Indiana hometown to house sit for his parents can be a positive thing. For example, Zach’s primary goal for his six weeks of unsupervised alone time is to hook up with as many guys as humanly possible. Starting with hook-up app user Btm4Discreet. Things with the local hunk start off great, until Zach recognizes him as Alistair Conway—the very guy responsible for ruining Zach’s life with that sex video. Alistair doesn’t recognize Zach and, after some amazing rough sex that just might have done double time as revenge sex, Alistair figures it out. But in a bizarre twist of events, Alistair meets his demise in a freak accident.
Home alone with the body of the guy who ruined his life, Zach is at a loss for what to do. Until his phone pings with a message. A message from user Btm4Discreet. Suddenly, Zach is thrust into a new reality when he realizes his cat, Grace Jones, is behind the snarky message. She can understand English and she is determined to help Zach not only get rid of Alistair’s body, but also help him have the summer he dreamed of. Over the next few weeks, Zach works under Grace Jones’ instructions to take care of Alistair’s corpse and also has a string of hookups that uncover as many of his desires as they satisfy. Until his time starts to run out.
My Cat’s Guide to Online Dating is a dark, contemporary story shot through with strong threads of horror. For me, the biggest horror theme was cannibalism. I’m not the biggest horror fan and this skirted the line of being too much. I was wary, because this element was introduced so early in the book and the structure of the story made me think cannibalism would possibly figure into each chapter. I was determined to give the book a chance and discovered that the flesh consumption isn’t the fate of all the hook-ups. Bigger fans of this kind of trope will probably have fun trying to figure out who gets eaten and who doesn’t (and, in hindsight, I did too).
Apart from that, the other big element in the story is Grace Jones. She is ostensibly Zach’s childhood pet, but we soon learn she’s far more sentient than the average house cat. There are big themes of cats as religious/spiritual icons and Grace Jones often drops hints that she’s very worthy of such adoration. At the same time, she is also the character in the story that encourages the cannibalism (though I suppose it’s not cannibalism when she eats human flesh). Plus, she just comes across as sort of a megalomaniac. Despite the title, Grace Jones felt less like a helping hand in Zach’s sex life and more like…well, another bully he had to deal with. If you like puzzles, this guessing game about what Grace Jones’ true nature is will be fun(ish). I loved having pet theories along the way, too. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’ll say I finished the book without clear answers about the fantastical elements of the story.
The rest of the story is a series of vignettes where Zach meets a hook up and has varied sexual and emotional connections with them. I really enjoyed this set up, the knowledge that Zach is only back in Indiana for a few weeks, but discovering all different kinds of (temporary) partners. Surprisingly, I viewed each of these five hookups (excluding Alistair) as positive experiences for Zach. There’s nothing so gauche as little Hallmark moments where Zach starts off dead wrong (literally), then each hook up gets progressively a little better until he finds The One. In that light, this story is absolutely an atypical romance with a bigger focus on the sex. Nevertheless, each new partner helps Zach learn a little more about what he does and doesn’t want in a relationship. He learns how to let go even when someone seems perfect and how to trust even when it seems impossible to do so.
Overall, this was a mostly positive reading experience for me. I am glad I stuck with it and really enjoyed following Zach’s fraught summer in Indiana. The horror and paranormal elements were two wild cards I learned to live with. I do have two smallish criticisms. One is that I felt the story lacked an “aha” moment that helped me understand why there needed to be any horror/paranormal elements at all (or at least why Zach was the lucky guy to be at the center of all that action). The other is that the attempts at humor meant to convey “darkly humorous” fell pretty flat for me. But then again, maybe readers who are bigger fans of horror will appreciate that more. This book isn’t for everyone, but I think it’s a uniquely structured exploration of taboos and queer representation.
Thanks for your review, Camille. I don’t think this book is for me, but I definitely appreciated learning about it.
Yeah, this book pushes the envelope in a lot of ways I think. I liked the carousel of potential love (or maybe just sex) interests for the MC and the extreme experiences probably helped him grow…but I didn’t feel like that was captured in the book very strongly. Still, I think it’s fun when books challenge my usual comfort zone.