There was a gentleman of independent means who, at about the age of fifty-six, conceived of a passionate hatred for his much-younger wife’s white Persian cat.
A highlight among highlights from Joyce Carol Oates’ brilliant Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque
collection, ‘The White Cat’ is the story of Julius, a wealthy man in his late fifties who does not need to work, and his much younger wife; she spends a lot of her time with her circle of theatre friends in the city, leaving him alone to collect his rare antiques and ponder why he still feels unsatisfied, despite having accrued everything he considers necessary for a successful life. Adding to his woes is Miranda, the white Persian cat he bought for his wife, who seems to like everyone except Julius and will not let him stroke her or come anywhere near here. Julius is annoyed – didn’t he buy the cat, and bestow it to his wife as a gift? So why does the cat not show him any affection? He owns the cat, right?
So, Julius decides to kill Miranda, attempting to make it look like an accident. The cat doesn’t die, returning from the grave again and again, much to Julius’s distress…
‘The White Cat’ is one of those great stories that is absurdly funny, genuinely creepy, and one that can be interpreted in several different ways – is Julius simply transferring his feelings towards his wife onto the cat, or is there something genuinely wrong with the animal? Often lauded as a highlight of feminist horror short-fiction, this was the story that made me understand why Oates is considered such an important writer.
First published in A Matter of Crime, Harcourt Brace, 1987; collected in Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque, Penguin/Plume, 1995