A Review of Robert Steven Goldstein’s “Cat’s Whisker”
There was a senior citizen in my church named Garth that I was quite friendly with. Garth was a guy who was fascinated with science, though not at the expense of his core faith as a member of our Christian congregation. One day, Garth invited me to his home to take part in a discussion around quantum physics and spirituality. I regretfully declined. I wasn’t sure if I was interested in learning about quarks and such, and I always figured that I’d have time slightly later in my life to engage in this kind of discourse with him. Perhaps a few months after he had the event, though, he died. Not taking part in that conversation is a source of regret for me — I wish I’d been there. Who knows? I might have learned something that I could taken along with me on my faith journey, and could have expanded my mind. Thus, when a publicist reached out to me about a small press book I could read via a digital download whose main conceit focused on the fusion of science and spirituality (or so it is being marketed as), I felt that I couldn’t turn something like this down this time.
In some ways, I wish I did.
That said, Robert Steven Goldstein’s Cat’s Whisker isn’t a novel that is terribly bad, per se. I’ve read worse books from major publishers. It’s clear that Goldstein is a somewhat talented writer, and he can write a gripping story — with a few caveats. However, my major caveat and the reason this book has left a bad taste in my mouth is not because of the spirituality versus science angle. I’ll talk about that a bit more in a moment. The reason that this book landed lightly for me is that about fourth fifths of the way through my electronic copy, there was a scene (which has now been apparently edited out of the book) involving bestiality and BDSM (which stands for “bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism.”) While I am now told that this scene was presented to me in error and is not final copy, the fact that such a scene existed in an earlier draft sent out to reviewers is still problematic. There are a couple of things that are off the table for me when it comes to sexuality. One is sex with children. The other is sex with animals.
Aside from this major gaffe on the part of the publisher — I really wish I had received a final copy of this novel and not be subjected to a rather offensive part of a draft text — what you have here is not too bad. Cat’s Whisker is, in part, a philosophical novel not just about faith and science, but also deals with topics such as meditation, Jiu-Jitsu, biology, anthropology, Tai Chi, and, of course, the dreaded BDSM. It is also a robust coming-of-age novel that is quite entertaining. The story is largely told in a series of flashbacks, where the main character, Samuel Baron — a successful businessman and entrepreneur — looks back at the events that shaped him as a man.
The glimpses of growing up in the South Bronx of the 1950s and ’60s are remarkably stirring. We see Baron grow into a somewhat three-dimensional character, and the interactions with his family members and his peers are remarkably poignant. However, the moments set in the present day, which center around the character and a drinking buddy waxing poetic on just about any topic under the sun while trying to perfect the consummate cocktail, were less interesting to me — probably because I don’t drink. The novel also suffers from the poor beginning that I mentioned earlier, which starts on the topic of meditation in a way that’s New Age-y — so it might be best to know walking into this novel that Goldstein isn’t interested in exploring how traditional religion and science can co-exist. He’s going after something more mystical (which is odd because Baron is Jewish). The book eventually picks up speed — but I’m not sure if it’s because I had lowered my expectations by the laboriously embarrassing start. That part of Cat’s Whisker is a little like listening to a friend trying to tell you something that they’re excited about but is actually boring to the point of the listener (or, in this case, the reader) wanting to cry. Threads are dropped throughout the novel, too. The start of the book deals with Rosicrucianism to a degree, but then the religious order is hardly ever mentioned again in the novel. The ending is weak, too, as it involves a chance encounter by characters who haven’t seen each other in decades. I know it’s meant to give the novel a sense of optimism and hopefulness, but the scene is not quite believable.
In the end, I want to say that Cat’s Whisker is a simply mediocre, but occasionally illuminating read. Aside from the scene that has now supposedly been removed, there are things to recommend about Cat’s Whisker. For one, it’s a 140,000-word book that is immensely readable for the most part. I’m sure that with some editorial pruning, the book could have been stronger. I’ve said it before, but Goldstein does possess some talent as a writer, so he needs to temper his desire to write about subject matter that is deviant and disgusting. As the sun sets for me on Cat’s Whisker, I’m just willing to say that while I, for the most part and with an exception, enjoyed the read — and there’s the crux of something interesting and profound here. I just couldn’t get past the bestiality angle that was in my copy of the book. Enough said.
Robert Steven Goldstein’s Cat’s Whisker will be published by Köehler Books on October 26, 2021.
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