Thursday, July 11, 2019

Book Reviews Reloaded: The Jesus Cow

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on September 22, 2015. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays or Fridays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

The Jesus Cow - Michael Perry
Harper Perennial
320 Pages

The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry is a humorous look at what happens when a miracle is bestowed upon a simple farmer in a ordinary small town in the backwoods of America. Of course, hijinks ensue when progress is halted in the name of faith, and those small town secrets are unearthed by the mayhem that envelops the town.

Harley Jackson is a low-key farmer trying to hold on to the last bit of his family farm when a calf is born on Christmas Eve bearing the image of Jesus Christ on its flank. Going against the advice of his best friend, Jackson tries his best to hide the “miracle” from everyone else. This backfires when the calf casually walks out an open barn door and is discovered by some town folk.

When the word of the “Jesus Cow” get out, the world descends on the tiny central Wisconsin town. Jackson hires an agent to control access and take care of the piles of money dropped in his lap as all the righteous make a pilgrimage to his farm. With his home overrun by strangers, Jackson is able to spend more time courting the woman of his dreams as wells as staving off the attempted purchase of his land by a ruthless developer.

In the end, hilarity ensues as everyone’s secrets are thrust onto the stage with explosive results. There is also a little bit of tragedy, but this aims to tie up loose ends before the curtain falls. Not all the personal relationships are resolved, but the terms echo with reality. It’s not all perfection in the real world, and Perry reminds us of that by not letting the guy walk away with the girl without concessions.

As with all good satire, Perry puts his characters’ foibles front and center, even the ones that seemingly detract from the rest of the humor of the story. In other reviews that I’ve read about this book, many reviewers did not like this aspect of the writing. However, in my opinion, some of these actions by the characters add more realism to the people portrayed and make the story that much better.

Michael Perry explores the zany side of religion as people are caught up in the possibility of a miracle. What happens when your neighbor suddenly becomes rich and famous? Do things stay the same, or do they change? Does jealousy rear it ugly head because Jackson has something that they do not?

Perry’s characters, while funny and entertaining, sometimes seem a bit dry and one-dimensional. There are several flashes of brilliance with these people, but the rest of the time they fall into a humdrum,one dimensional existence. Thankfully, the real action is in the satire of religious fervor.

The Jesus Cow is Michael Perry’s first foray into fiction. His previous works are memoirs that look at life in a sometimes humorous way. If his fictional writing is any indication, I’m sure the several nonfiction works are just as funny. Perry writes very well and his humor will keep you turning pages. I cannot wait until his next novel arrives. In fact, I think I’ll grab some of his nonfiction works to help bide the time.

Craig Bacon’s family once raised a cow. Her name was Clyde. She wasn’t holy, but she was delicious.