Once You've Skinned the Cat, What Do You Do with the Pelt?

by Noel Mohberg

This dryly humorous book is in the first-person voice of a guileless college youth, Noel. He makes the acquaintance of Norma, a coed who is older and by all known measures, far more brilliant. Norma’s credentials as the Dean of Women’s Sanctioned Homecoming Queen Nominee, a renowned-cum-feared classroom debater, and an outspoken leader in campus affairs overwhelm Noel.

Norma takes herself and her sociology major very seriously and has need to know all there is to know about living, even in the hinterlands of rural North Dakota. Her most probing question of Noel is “How in the world can you people live out there?”

Norma learns that Noel’s mother is a writer. When Norma also learns that Noel’s mother has become recognized as an authority on life in the Dakotas, Norma insists that Noel take her to his rural home so she can interview his mother.

Bad weather bollixes the arrangements on the first day. Norma doesn’t help that much, either. The Minneapolis born-and-bred Norma is even more disdainful of North Dakotans than Bostonians are of New Yorkers and New Yorkers are of Minneapolitans. Understanding this, Noel struggles to point out plusses as well as minuses, but Norma’s preconceived notions thwart his every effort on the plus side of the ledger.

On the second day, apparently but surely unduly concerned that her vestal virgin honor remains above reproach, Norma invites Judy, a far more reasonable girl along on the venture. Noel continues in his attempts to show how the country folk strive make the best of things, but Norma sees the pockets of poverty and hardship and ignores the fields of fun and prosperity. She wants to see suffering, hear hurting, and smell stinks. She does. She smells lots of stinks. She sees what she wants to see and hears what she wants to hear. She finds exactly what she knew she’d find.

Judy attempts to act as a referee in discussions between Norma and Noel, but the slide from discussion into argument is irreversible. The conflicts and communication shortfalls between Noel and Norma provide fertile soil for nurturing corrupted cliches, inverted idioms, and plentiful puns. Double entendre is here, there, and everywhere. Subtle humor abounds.

Although the intent of this book is fun entertainment, there is a deeper meaning for those who go through life with needs to delve for deeper meanings. North Dakota is a hard and unforgiving place; it was not then nor ever will be a haven for easy-living. If one is to flourish in North Dakota, one has to have resilience and inventiveness for handling hardships and failures. So, that’s what the survivors do well. For them, solving problems is second nature. Making the best of their fragile successes requires different skills, though. What do you do after you’ve skinned the cat?