For Caleb Carr, Salvation Arrived on Little Cat’s Feet

MY BELOVED MONSTER: Masha, the Half-Wild Rescue Cat Who Rescued Me, by Caleb Carr

J. Alfred Prufrock measured his life out in coffee spoons. Caleb Carr has done so in cats.

Carr is best known for his 1994 best-selling novel “The Alienist,” about the search for a serial killer of boy prostitutes, and his work as a military historian. You have to prod the old brain folds a little more to remember that he is the middle son of Lucien Carr, the Beat Generation figure convicted of manslaughter as a 19-year-old Columbia student after stabbing his infatuated former Boy Scout leader and rolling the body into the Hudson.

This crime is only fleetingly alluded to in “My Beloved Monster,” which tracks Carr’s intimate relationship with a blond Siberian feline he names Masha — but his father haunts the book, as fathers will, more sinisterly than most.

After a short prison term, Lucien went on to become a respectable longtime editor for United Press International. He was a drunk — no surprise there, with famous dissolute-author pals like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg hanging around the house. But that he regularly beat Caleb and threw him down flights of stairs, causing not just psychological but physical injuries that persist into adult life, adds further dark shadings to this particular chapter of literary history.

In a boyhood marred by abuse, neglect and the upheaval of his parents’ divorce, cats were there to comfort and commune with Caleb. Indeed, he long believed he was one in a previous life, “imperfectly or incompletely reincarnated” as human, he writes.

Before you summon Shirley MacLaine to convene 2024’s weirdest author panel, consider the new ground “My Beloved Monster” breaks just by existing. Even leaving aside the countless novels about them, dogs have long been thought valid subjects for book-length treatment, from Virginia Woolf’s “Flush,” about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel, to John Grogan’s “Marley and Me.” Meow-moirs are thinner on the ground.

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