The Catsitters

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Vanity Fair culture critic James Wolcott paints a witty and enjoyable picture of New York romance among thirty-somethings in The Catsitters. Johnny Downs, an aspiring actor who supports himself by bartending, thinks he has relationships all figured out until he catches his girlfriend Nicole on a date with another man. Desperate for companionship other than his difficult cat (hence the title), he turns to his Athens, Georgia, friend Darlene, an eternal graduate student in Psychology, for help. Caustic, clever, and sharp, she begins to coach Johnny over the telephone in the role of his lifetime—the part of the man who is well suited for marriage.

Under Darlene’s tutelage, Johnny soon flings himself back into the romantic fray—first with Claudia, a high-maintenance beautiful actress who seems to be a bit out of Johnny’s league, and then with Claudia’s kinder and more approachable friend Amanda. Each venture goes awry as Johnny tries harder and harder to become the man that Darlene insists he must be to be irresistible.

The pattern changes in the failure of his relationship with Amanda, however. This time, Johnny is the one who betrays her with friends of Darlene who are cat-sitting for him. Johnny soon comes to realize that Darlene has carefully orchestrated the downfall of his new-budding relationship and has been trying to re-make him into the image of the man she has been having an affair with for years.

Johnny finally understands that to be happy in love he will have to disregard Darlene’s coaching and her elaborate romantic traps. He will have to quit playing roles and, instead, learn to not only be himself, but to be as good a man as he can be.