In "Make the Cougar Purr" Sonja Paris zip-locks the reader within the stifling zoo of her 40-something heroine where the howling sensations and prowling stimulations of countless unhappy, directionless and love/life questing inmates overwhelms and disturbs yet constitutes a viable underbelly for the 21st century inferno of relationship hell. Paris, the real-life widow of Johnny Paris of Johnny and the Hurricanes bares her own soul (80% of the time) and the soul of her creation, Hannah Bentley, with a rip and a roar that pings at the iceberg of indignation within the most dangerous animal in her social cage: a woman, psychologically scorned and emotionally wounded.
Fully aware that the only thing upon which she can rely with any regularity is her husband Steven's pathological cheating, blonde and slightly overweight Hannah retaliates with a hardening of her emotional veneer and some extra-curriculum bedroom (and countertop) activity of her own. Not that Steven ever made her happy anyway; from the get-go, her marriage to him yielded little in the blissful- contentment department. Was she in love? Did he love her? Was it all words? Just sex? Why the emptiness? Would more sex fill the void? Would more alcohol? Hannah participates in her life (20% of the time) yet rarely engages. Anesthetized by booze, she is there, but not there. Nonetheless discovering after Steven's sudden death that he actually loved his last mistress and was planning a fairytale life with her complete with a house, white picket fence, requisite child and dog, catapults Hannah onto a frenetic expedition for connectivity.
For almost 500 pages, the reader travels with Hannah across Middle America and overseas to her native Germany, voyeuristically and vicariously participating in a fast-track lifestyle of over-indulgence. For Hannah, a sufficient amount of booze means she's passed out-- and as for sex?--she's voracious--up all night and ready the following morning. Like all the other classic literary protagonists seeking change and redemption, when does our Hannah reach that climatic moment and finally decide that enough is enough? When does she realize that in order to be full she must be empty and that the best things in life are free? Where's the good guy that maybe isn't so hot to look at, loves her to death and eventually gets her to enjoy that warm and cuddly feeling growing inside herself? Ha! Refreshingly, she doesn't settle for second best where looking within means not getting what she wants--Paris and her Hannah are still trudging along the road of personal enlightenment and neither are afraid to admit that there are plenty of rocks to stumble upon that keep you from moving forward. On one leg of her journey, she dabbles with New Age modalities seeking the Higher Self, but amusingly persists in the age-old fun of placating her Lower Self (and Half) with healing touch of a different kind.
From a purely structural vantage point, this reviewer would have liked Hannah to come to some conclusion about her life. As with other seekers on a literary coming-of-age, she journeys through different predicaments and comes out stronger and wiser for the experience. However, from an overall standpoint, Hannah really doesn't grow at all. Despite all her adventures, trials and tribulations, she ends where she started with perhaps a little more cynicism added to the mix of disappointment and ennui. Poor Hannah, she epitomizes the concept of Weltschmerz. Her solution? More experiences of a different nature--a creative project--something that speaks to her soul. She's already got the body covered.
On a technical level, "Make the Cougar Purr," begs for chapter divisions. Paris does break different scenes and emotional departures with visual line separators. Nevertheless, I want to know when I was reaching my goal of finishing a chapter and another phase of Hannah's life by hitting that all-important empty page and larger heading font. Otherwise, Paris does an incredible job of allowing her readers to get inside of Hannah's brain space--even if Hannah really isn't in it herself.
Bottom line? Sonja Paris successfully depicts the struggle within the life of her character Hannah Bentley. This approximately 500 page middle-aged adventure takes the reader on a circuitous journey of self-discovery that doesn't always help us discover anything. Never boring or tedious, Paris intrigues with her writing style and perhaps has intuited that the act of writing in itself is therapeutic, creative and perhaps just the craft Hannah should hone. The ending may disappoint some. Adult language and situations. Recommended.
Diana Faillace Von Behren