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Book Review: The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing by Marilyn Durham (4/5)

6 Dec

I wanted to read this book because Durham is listed under important alumni from my University and is, in fact, the only novelist listed. I added it to my TBR and then realized my library didn’t have a copy. I found a copy in a used bookstore that was published in the 1970s. I was really excited to find it and I’m glad I could read it so soon.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing by Marilyn Durham

Summary from Goodreads:

This story blazes through Wyoming territory in the 1880s. We plunge into the lives of a fugitive U. S. Army officer planning a desperate train robbery. Characters include his diverse accomplices–a runaway white woman, and the lovely Indian girl, Cat Dancing, mother of the officer’s children.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this book. The cover says it was a nationwide bestseller but the fact that my library didn’t have a copy and that my copy is so old that there’s no bar code let me know it wasn’t one that had lasting greatness. But there is a movie starring Burt Reynolds so maybe it would be OK. I really liked the book. I thought it had a nicely complicated plot, not too complicated that I got lost in it but circuitous enough that I didn’t get bored. Jay was a great character and I had some problems with Catherine but I liked her enough to enjoy the story.

I thought Jay was very credible in his motivation and the way he acted. He seems like the kind of man a woman would fall in love with quickly and then discover his demons. Catherine bothered me. She was at times strong, like when the Native Americans attacked her. At other times, she seemed very weak, like when she’d parade naked in front of Jay and then be shy minutes later. Her falling in love with him was a bit unbelievable to me as well. It was very fast and I think she was more infatuated with the novelty of him than anything.

Charlie was my favorite side character. (I liked Jay best but I already told you why.) I liked that he was quiet and very observant. I thought his back story with Jay was very believable as well and I thought it was nice how close the two became and how Charlie was the one person who cared about Jay and visited him. He was an admirable character and I wish he’d had a bigger role in the book.

I related to Catherine and it took me a while to realize why. I’ve never wanted to get out of my relationship but I’ve had times I want to get out of my town or my job and just run away, hoping I’ll be swept up into some great adventure for a while. I understood the part of her that was sick of her current situation and wanted something new. I think, to some degree, we’ve all felt this way at some time or another and it was part of what I did relate to in Catherine.

Marilyn Durham Picture via IMDb

Marilyn Durham
Picture via IMDb

I enjoyed the group on the road, running from Lapchance and what they had to do to stay one step ahead. I thought Jay adapted to having Catherine with them very quickly and I enjoyed hearing about how they camped in the desert. I thought this was the most exciting part of the book. The chapters and parts that switched back to Lapchance and Willard were a bit dull to me because their chase seemed to be so delayed and slow that it wasn’t much of a thrill.

I thought Catherine falling in love and insisting she was in love with Jay was a bit unbelievable. I could believe she would fall into bed with him, sure, but her insistence that it was love for so long frustrated me. If she’d claimed love the morning after and then dropped it, I’d be okay, but she persisted for too long. It was one thing that made her feel weak to me.

Jay had trouble letting anyone love him and that was his journey. He was scared when Cat loved him and wouldn’t let Catherine love him. He’d chased Johnny so blindly for years that he had no idea what to do if he couldn’t have his son. It seemed a bit hurried to me, but it was a good journey for a character to have. Catherine seemed to be finding her own independence which I felt she did in the first chapter of the book when she left Willard so I was a bit confused as to what she was chasing.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book had a lot of action in it, more than I was expecting. I enjoyed that a lot and I thought Durham made her characters suffer a good amount. The book seemed really well researched to me, which I really appreciated. Despite being from the mid-west and writing the book in the 1970s, Durham depicted 1880s Wyoming really well and the technology was consistent. As a fellow historical fiction writer, hats off to Durham.

Really enjoyable despite one part I felt was a bit unbelievable. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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