The Incarnation of CatMan Billy
by Will Jordan (Senegal 1971–72; Liberia 1972)
The Press of Light
Reviewed by Patrick Chura (Lithuania 1992–94)
THE INCARNATION OF CATMAN BILLY, a first novel from Will Jordan, is about “practical energy work,” a metaphysical self-help concept intended to improve the understanding and following of our “human needs and energy channels.” The author is a spiritual counselor and full-time teacher of meditation and healing. He travels the country offering one-day CatMan Billy seminars and transformational workshops. Before and after the seminars he sells this book, which was written as a vehicle for his New Age philosophy.
The novel is an elaborate fantasy-allegory, with Jordan’s take on the animal world serving as a tool for correcting human behaviors and attitudes. The short opening chapter has some good writing — it describes the birth of a litter of kittens in the rural Johnson household in an appealing way. But there’s a wrenching change of setting in chapter two, which ushers us into a society of talking felines led by Sunterra, Lord of Cats. Sunterra holds a council to discuss his latest concern: “We have a human spirit, at present just born, in a cat body. His name is Billy. We are to teach him.” If the cats can do this for Billy, his “world will never be the same, and he will shift people in turn.”
What Billy needs to learn is “the lightness and joy of cats,” along with many lessons about how to redefine himself and his perceptions. He discovers that there are four feline types — DreamCats, PowerCats, JokesterCats and HunterCats — and this awareness helps him move around the cat world with better fluidity. As Billy travels with various members of the pride through DreamSpace (a kind of time machine that enables him to see his past life), he struggles to keep his CatBalance against the tide of human emotions that can derail his spiritual growth. But Billy eventually gets where he’s going. He acquires CatWisdom and returns to a world where he can pass it on to people. And he makes possible Jordan’s promotional pitch, made in the “Author’s Comment” at the end of the book: “What works for Billy will work for you.”
If you are already a Will Jordan fan, are into practical energy work, or have bought a ticket to a CatMan Billy workshop, this book may indeed work for you. If you are not a Jordan follower, I doubt you’ll be made one by reading these 310 pages about the Lord of Cats and his desire to teach spirituality to all the world’s kittens. The prose is weighed down with vague metaphysical jargon and the plot, relying heavily on long conversations between undifferentiated cat-characters, gets tedious. Jordan seems to be a competent writer-entrepreneur, but it would have taken a real virtuoso to make this esoteric flight of the imagination interesting to the general reader.
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Patrick Chura (Lithuania 1992-94) is associate professor of English at the University of Akron, where he teaches courses in American literature. His new book, Thoreau the Land Surveyor, considers how Thoreau’s profession as a surveyor shaped his view of nature and his literary work.