Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: "Teaching the Cat to Sit" (Michelle Theall)

Leo Tolstoy knew what he was talking about when he wrote, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" (from his novel, Anna Karenina).

Memoirs are one of the most intimate ways readers can identify with the challenges, joys, and heartaches in others' lives, and perhaps feel that they have been understood, or empathized with, or that they are not alone in their own personal struggles.

Michelle Theall's memoir, Teaching the Cat to Sit, about "growing up gay and Catholic in the Texas Bible belt," according to Theall herself, is no exception.

Theall narrates the story of her fight to gain acceptance from her exacting, traditionalist mother for being who she really is, couched under the guise of gaining permission for her son Connor to be baptized and accepted at the Catholic preschool where he was enrolled before the preschool decided that the presence of students of gay parents sent a message that the Church was sanctioning such relationships.

The story of Theall's childhood --- her struggle to define herself and fit in, an act of betrayal by a trusted adult figure, and her inability to do enough to gain her mother's support and love --- is juxtaposed against the story of her struggle on behalf of the son she and her partner Jill adopted, that he be accepted into the Church that meant so much to Theall growing up, and not penalized for who his mothers are.

Theall, an accomplished writer and experienced author, imbues her story with wry humor and a natural, conversational tone that makes for easy, pleasurable reading, despite the often devastating subject matter. Who hasn't felt unwanted and under-appreciated by someone important? Who hasn't done everything possible, for a while, to try to redefine oneself in view of what others seem to expect? Theall can relate, in many more ways than one.

Here is a memoir both poignant and funny, tender and heartbreaking, in which Theall realizes her own gifts and comes to accept herself and the life with which she's been blessed (underscoring a timeless lesson), regardless of what others think of her.

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Title: Teaching the Cat to Sit
Author: Michelle Theall
ISBN: 978-1-4516-9729-2
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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