Bittersweet for “Haee The Cat with a Crooked Tail”

What does it mean to be “middling”? The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes it as being of “middle, medium, or moderate size, degree, or quality”. In other words, average. In this charming illustrated book for children and adults, local author R.S. Vern explores the middling life through the eyes of Haee, a cat which is pretty ordinary save for its unusually long and crooked tail.

The first installment in a planned trilogy, the story sees Haee leaving his comfy home to explore the world. After losing his way, he is adopted by Tom Stuck and Jane Fruss, a very ordinary sort of couple. Haee gets used to leading a routine life with his new owners, but eventually gets bored and heads for the streets, where he befriends the alley cats, including Whie, a cat with an unnaturally big nose.

Bittersweet and seemingly simple, this story embodies the ambivalence the author feels about an average, middle-class existence – possibly mundane, yes, but reassuring in its certainties and not without its own joys.

So, on one hand, you have Tom and Jane, a middling couple who always “wake up early for work, go for evening jogs and sleep early at night”. They do have secret dreams: Organic food-loving Tom fantasises about moving away from the city, while Jane wishes she could fly away and see the world. However, they continue going about their routine lives, never acting on these inner desires.

On the other hand, there are also moments in the book where the author hints at the possibility that the things which prevent us from making major life changes may actually be much less frightening than we think.

Early in the story, for example, Haee gets lost after he enters a black hole he comes upon after leaving home. “Alone and terribly frightened”, he regrets his earlier curiosity and swears never to “act so foolishly and recklessly again”.  At this moment, he is petrified when he sees “a pair of huge claws coming at him” in the darkness, but the claws turn out to be the (skinny) hands of Tom Stuck, who rescues Haee from the black hole.

By making it apparent to the reader that the things which frightened Haee so greatly are actually pretty harmless, Vern slips in an important point: Perhaps it isn’t that scary or difficult to create a life less ordinary.

By Lynette Koh, Senior Writer, Mediacorp Pte Ltd

“Haee’s excursions will not only capture the imagination of children, but will also get a laugh out of adults.”

When Haee, the cat with the crooked tail, comes across the black hole, he is overcome by curiosity. As he conjures the infinite roads the black hole can lead to, he decides to enter. After hours of exploring, one turn after another, Haee’s hunger sparks a desire to return home. There’s just one problem: He’s lost and terribly frightened by the darkness. Vern appears to use Haee’s adventures to show his audience, mainly children, the consequences of curiosity.

The second part of Haee’s adventures begin when Tom and Jane free him from the black hole and provide him with a worry-free, comfortable life. Rather than playing with other cats, Haee spends the majority of his time sun bathing. After several years of living in Tom and Jane’s home, he notices that his human friends engage in the same activities at nearly the same time everyday. Though both are happy, each has his or her own insecurities, aspirations, and desire for freedom from the routine activities of everyday life. Surprisingly, Haee is required to follow a daily plan like Tom and Jane, and is rewarded when he is successful.

Perhaps this second part of the book resonates strongly with adults. As children, they are allowed to roam free and explore the world. As grown-ups, they must abide to stringent schedules and deadlines, while constantly running the risk of feeling mechanical. When Haee’s restlessness grows, he leaves Tom and Jane’s home, and builds a new world with a bullied, red-nosed cat named Whie.

Throughout the story, Haee’s display of curiosity and courage are remarkable. When he wants to break free from routine, he simply does. Haee’s excursions will not only capture the imagination of children, but will also get a laugh out of adults as they anticipate the release of the next book in the Haee series.

The US Review of Books

Wit, Subtle Humor and even Cynicism towards the Absurdities found in the Human World.

A 5 star book review by Readers Favourite for Book #2
A 5 star book review by Readers Favorite for Book #2

What would it feel like to see the world through the green eyes of a cat? No need to guess, just read “The Unconventional Life of Haee” by R.S. Vern. The story made me keep turning the pages till the very end, as the writing generates beauty through its simplicity. The protagonist is Haee, a cat who prefers the eventful life in the back alley to the monotony of the role of a domestic ‘pet’. Rejecting the safety of a routine life, Haee takes the hard path and encounters several other cat-characters who display a wide and a very interesting diversity of attitudes and behavior. The story is all about how Haee reconciles with this society.

The plot bears features of an allegory, as it contains several levels of understanding. “The Unconventional Life of Haee” can be read and enjoyed as a simple tale woven around an alley-cat, although it has a deeper layer of ideas inter-twined in it. The themes are not made lessons. They are presented just as parts of the world it describes. The cats who appear through the pages of the book epitomize certain stereo-typical characters in human society. They have deep-rooted norms or conventions. Some differ from the majority and live silently. Then there are trouble-makers, like Haee, who change, and who wish to change their immediate world as well. What happens when unconventional attitudes meet standard conventions? R.S. Vern tries to analyse it through her fiction. It being the second book of a series, the writing denotes wit, subtle humor and even cynicism towards the absurdities found in the human world. The story is strewn with illustrations which contribute considerably to the artistic value of this piece of writing. Read “The Unconventional Life of Haee” and enter into the bizarre world of Green Alley, where cats are vegetarians.

Reviewed by Gayani Hathurusingha for Readers Favorite