Review: Holy Cow by David Duchovny

Holy CowDavid Duchovny’s novel, Holy Cow, is founded on a quirky idea, but its execution is slightly fumbled, resulting in a mixed-bag affair: funny without ever being laugh-out-loud; experimental, without being truly innovative. It’s got so much potential, but doesn’t quite grasp it.

Elsie Bovary is a cow, and a rather happy one at that. Life on the farm doesn’t have many thrills, but it’s comfortable, and fulfilling in its own way. Then, one night, as she and her best friend Mallory venture outside their gated commune, she sidles to the window of the farmhouse and discovers a horrible truth, one that rattles the very core of her world, via the screen of the ‘Box God’ – aka a television. Cows – her kind – are bred to be slaughtered. It hits her immediately: that’s why her mother, and so many other cows, have disappeared. Humans, clearly, cannot be trusted. She needs to escape – now. But where? The Box God provides the answer: India, duh, where cows are sacred, and Elsie will be treated with reverence.

And so, Elsie schemes the details: the when, the how. As she does so, she is approached by two characters: Shalom, a pig who has recently converted to Judaism and is determined to make it to Israel; and Tom, a Turkey, who wants to get to, well, Turkey. Together they form an unlikely trio, and when the time is right, they make their escape.

The novel reads as Elsie’s steam of consciousness. There’s a lot of winking at the reader, talking directly to the audience, and referring to her ‘editor.’ Holy Cow is loaded with jokes, but few warrant more than a minor chuckle. In that respect, Duchovny tries a little too hard to be constantly funny rather than finding a consistent peak. The same clumsiness occurs when he tries to nail down the novel’s message: that, as a global community we should unite and work together to foster mutual acceptance, cultural, religious and racial differences be damned. It’s ham-fisted rather than nuanced; a tighter edit could’ve massaged the theme less explicitly into the narrative.

Still, it’s refreshing to see a ‘celebrity author’ crafting something for pure entertainment rather than attempted literary merit. Duchovny’s Holy Cow brims with a zest rarely seen from his famous kin, and it’s sure to have its admirers. I count myself as one of them, despite some misgivings. Light-hearted and fun, I’m sure it’s unlike anything else I’ll read this year.

Review: Useful by Debra Oswald

UsefulAt various junctures in our lives we have – and will indubitably continue to – ponder our place in the universe. Have we achieved all that we possibly can? Have we done our very best with the faculties available to us? Should we have strived for more? And is there still time to make amends? This line of questioning inevitably leads to a variety of possibilities: impassioned declarations that never have any hope of transpiring; more realistic avowals that require grit and determination; the inadequate variety, easy to accomplish, but ultimately lame; or there’s complete surrender – accepting the things too hard to change, content to continue down a path leading nowhere, or otherwise, leap off that path through brutish means, into complete oblivion. When we meet Sullivan Moss in Debra Oswald’s Useful, he has reached this point, perched atop a rooftop, ready to jump, the asphalt below a fitting conclusion to a life lead poorly.

Things do not proceed according to plan.

Surviving his attempted suicide through comical circumstances, Sullivan wakes in hospital and makes one of those brash, ill-conceived proclamations we’re liable to make when not in full control of our senses: he is doing to donate his kidney. He knows he’s messed up – screwed up his life in a variety of ways, both consciously and subconsciously – but he’s got a body full of functioning organs. Why shouldn’t someone else benefit? Someone worthy of salvation? Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Nothing worthwhile ever is. There are a multitude of tests – physiological and medical – he must pass in order to fulfil his objective. And as Sullivan begins cleaning up his act, he discovers there are things – people – worth living for. And no sooner does that realization strike, Sullivan’s penchant for imprudence strikes again…

Useful is a sharp-edged but sweet-centred story about life, and the expectations we have of others as well as ourselves. Oswald utilizes a brilliant and quirky cast of characters, and has concocted a novel as emotionally resonant as it is glib. It doesn’t quite possess the same humour as Simsion’s Rosie books – although there are moments of hilarity – but it’s got just as much heart. A great feel-good read that has far more depth than readers might expect.