Monday, October 2, 2017

Book Review: The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry

Until The Jesus Cow, author Michael Perry was known primarily for non-fiction writing which detailed the lives of rural Wisconsinites, so I was very interested to see how he would tackle a work of fiction that dealt with made-up versions of those same people. Whether though fiction or non-fiction, Perry is at his heart a storyteller, and he excels at crafting interesting characters and placing them in interesting situations. As you might expect from a novel called The Jesus Cow, there is a bit of an absurdist tone to much of the book, but it is balanced with serious reflections on faith materialism, loneliness and the vagaries of adult romance.

The plot involves a farmer, Harley Jackson, who births a Holstein calf on Christmas Eve. The calf bears a spot on its flank that looks like the face of Jesus. Concerned about the unwanted attention the calf might bring to his life, he initially tries to hide it, but eventually gives in to temptation and exploits the calf for financial gain. While this is happening, he meets and falls for a new woman in town, and it is in Perry's depiction of the course of this relationship that the book really finds its footing. I suspect there are few readers who will not relate all too well to this particular story arc.

In the end, Perry swaps wink-and-nod humor for all out semi-apocalyptic silliness, and honestly I'm not sure there's really any other way to complete a story like this. The Jesus Cow doesn't have the emotional resonance of Truck: A Love Story, but it is a nicely wrought fiction that will occasionally make you think and occasionally make you laugh, and that's more than I can say for most of the books I read. I grade it B+.

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