It’s been said that with certain stories, you had to be there to really appreciate the humor in the situation. Author Noel Mohberg grew up in southeastern North Dakota, and knows all about the Norwegian culture and makes the most of it in “Letting the Cat Out of the Bag is the SECOND Step.”
Yes, that’s an awfully long title for a book, but it’s likely a sequel to “Once You’ve Skinned the Cat, What Do You Do with the Pelt?” He says his second book is a collection of short stories, but I disagree — it’s a full-fledged book with a simple plot: two friends are out ice fishing and telling stories.
John isn’t sure why he’s been invited along on Henning’s ice fishing excursion, and then Henning tells him: John saved his life once. But that’s not the main point of the story. No, the main point is basically Henning telling about his hapless existence, beginning when he was a boy with an abusive father.
Back then his father wouldn’t have been identified as abusive, but “tough.” Henning resorted to blaming his brother to escape beatings now and then, and Henning’s brother could be considered a bully, too. (And these days we know why the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.)
Those painful memories aside, Henning has some stories that are sure to spur a recollection in someone of that era. If you don’t remember coming out of a theater on a Saturday in December with a bag of popcorn, candy and an apple, you might as well put the book back on the shelf.
Mohberg himself cautions the reader that if they don’t get the humor to close the book and find something else to read. Some of the chapters in the novel beg to be read aloud. That might be the only way you’ll catch some of the humor. (Barstuhl, North Dakota? OK, barstool.)
Henning talks about the farm chores — milking the cows, catching the cows that have wandered from their pasture, putting chores before school. In the chapter that is the inspiration for the title, Henning and his father take burlap bags to their neighbor’s farm to collect near-feral cats to take home to their barn to keep the rat population down.
The description of putting the cats into the bags is laugh-out-loud funny. Someone with pampered kitties might not find it so amusing, but I’m a dog person. I loved it. And I also understand how someone growing up on a farm never gets too attached to an animal, because it might be supper someday.
Henning has one adventure after another. He receives a special rope for Christmas and practices roping with the dream of someday competing in a local rodeo. Not too many people enter the roping contest, so he figures he can win a prize even at last place. And then the rope breaks.
Henning rides his horse across a neighbor’s field while he’s hunting. Instead of the prey he’s hoping to find, Henning is sprayed in the face by a skunk. Mohberg describes the pain and despair with such accuracy, you have to wonder if it didn’t happen to him.
Henning falls off his horse and is forced to take refuge in the haystack. The horse wanders off, leaving Henning alone with his thoughts. Will his remains be found next spring when his neighbor feeds the hay to his cattle? Or will his family find his carcass as a frozen parcel after the snowstorm?
Henning and his fishing partner John have a parallel problem. Their four-wheeler has sunk into the lake, their phone batteries have died, and without GPS, the men will never find their way from the fish house on the lake to the resort. Will someone find them before the fish house sinks, too? Or will their carcasses wash up on a shore somewhere?
“Letting the Cat Out of the Bag is the SECOND Step” is available from Amazon.com.