Review: The Jesus Cow: A Novel

The Jesus Cow: A Novel
The Jesus Cow: A Novel by Michael Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Jesus Cow
By Michael Perry

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

“On Christmas Eve itself, the bachelor Harley Jackson stepped into his barn and beheld there illuminated in the straw a smallish newborn calf upon whose flank was borne the very image of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
“Well,” said Harley, “that’s trouble.”

So begins the New York Times bestselling Wisconsin author’s novel (Population 485) about a cow and a man and a town and a whole heckuva lot more. Oh, and in case you didn’t know Perry doesn’t just write books, he also sings and is on the radio and is hilarious in front of large crowds when asked about his pigs.

Back to the novel and Harley. Though Jesus Cow does indeed play a pretty major role in this story, the bigger themes are far more intriguing. First and foremost there is much about the inter-twined relationships of life in a small mid-western town that certainly could be down the road from here and how your history will always be right there for everyone to remind you of. The friendship that Harley has with his best-foamy-beer-slugging-buddy-Billy is golden and true.

And then there is Mindy, Meg and Carolyn, the trio of ladies that bring love and humor and kindness and, of course, heartache in all the right measures to the little town of Swivel. Though Jesus Cow (his mother’s name is Tina Turner, no lie) brings buckets of cash that spill over with trouble, there is a lot of meat to consider as well. I don’t mean just the kind you have on the grill…

“Those people care more about fireworks, softball, and beer then a vision of Christ they claim to follow. Take a poll and they’ll rate themselves 97 percent Christian. But how many of them actually show up for church on Sunday? And of those that do, how many of them really mean it? How many trouble themselves with any thought of why they’re even in the pews? Jesus Cow? For most a’ them, it ain’t nothin’ but Harley Jackson’s weird damn steer.”

More than anything, Perry has a marvelous way of turning a phrase into a lesson. Though a weakness in the prose is he tells far more than he shows, some of his lines are worthy of reading twice. Several words (I am not embarrassed to admit) I had to ask Mister Google. I like that.

“Pareidolia. A psychological phenomenon. Where your brain fills in the gaps left by your eyes. It’s why you can see a man on the moon, or a rabbit in the clouds. It’s why people see Jesus in their fish sticks…And when faith is in play, the inclination kicks into overdrive.”

The epilogue could have been re-named Resolutions with all the pat story-line tie-ups, there were a few surprises and one clever twist. Billy, the voice of reason throughout, has a wise and timeless observation everyone will find worthwhile.

“Life is a rough approximation of things hoped for. You need to revel in the misfires. In the scars and dings. You need to develop a taste for regret. It’s the malt vinegar of emotions—drink it straight from the bottle and it’ll eat yer guts. Add a sprinkle here and there and it puts a living edge on things.”

Happy New Year!

View all my reviews

Speak Your Mind