Well holy cow, David Duchovny, our Fox Mulder, our Hank Moody, an actor, a director, is now an author! A book being praised across the planet – a book in true Duchovny style, HOLY COW is literally about a cow and some other unique farm animals. Your reviewer, Kernel Morgan will explain it all below for you, I have this on my pile to be read, a book I was keen to review, but my pile of items to review is out of control. HOLY COW is out now from Hachette Australia, you can purchase it as an eBook or a hardback from HERE or from local bookstores. And if you want some more information, or to have a sneaky read of the first chapter, the book has its very own website HERE. This book was provided to Salty Popcorn from the fine folks at Hachette for review.
BY MORGAN BELL
HOLY COW is a debut novel by a celebrity, David Duchovny. The David Duchovny of TV fame, star of X-FILES and CALIFORNICATION, and from films like THE JONESES, EVOLUTION, and KALIFORNIA. I feel I would be remiss in not explaining a bit about David Duchovny when introducing this book, as his fame is clearly a key factor in it getting published.
Upon reading HOLY COW, one important fact I needed to know about Duchovny was whether he was a vegan, as the crux of the plot of is an anthropomorphised cow uncovering the horrors of factory farming and seeking a better life for herself. As it turns out Duchovy is a former vegetarian-turned-pescetarian (eats fish). He told the New York Times “I’m a very lazy vegetarian, which means I will look for the vegetarian meal, but I will also give up. I don’t think I eat red meat anymore. Let’s say no, I don’t. I’ll eat fish.”
HOLY COW was originally pitched as a screenplay to several studios in the hope of making it a feature film. Much of the textual references Elsie the cow makes about book marketing and screenplay format are actually a nod to the story’s inability to become a film. It was deemed unsuitable because it discussed controversial topics such as religion and eating meat, some major no-nos in Hollywood.
Duchovny told the LA Times that when he was a young man if you had asked him who he was he would have said ‘a writer’. ‘Writer’ was always his self-identification. His father was a writer who published his first novel age 73. Duchovy majored in English at Princeton, writing his senior thesis on Beckett. He was part of the PhD English Literature program at Yale but never handed in his final dissertation. Last year Duchovy woke up and thought ‘You’ve been saying you’re a writer your whole life, why don’t you write something?’ And that was the beginnings of HOLY COW.
HOLY COW is comprised of 48 chapters, most just two pages or less in length, as it is 106 pages long. It is written in a linear journal format, like a BRIDGET JONES DIARY for cows, from the voice of an inquisitive young cow called Elsie (she refers to it as a dictated memoir). The voice of Elsie is that of a teenage valley girl, who uses terms like ‘cray-cray’, ‘whatevs’, ‘amazeballs’ and ‘totes’. She is as naïve as she is direct. I imagined a cross between Rebel Wilson and Kathy Griffin voicing the character if it were ever made into a cartoon. At the very end Elsie signs off her manuscript with “By E. Bovary as communicated to D. Duchovny (cow writer).” It is a literary technique that does work in this instance, making the cow into a teenage girl and the story into a coming of age drama in road trip adventure framing. It gives the reader some familiar tropes to build empathy with. We think of Elsie as Alicia Silverstone in CLUELESS peeping in a barnhouse window and suddenly realising that all her friends and family are going to be unceremoniously slaughtered. Elsie is an intelligent young woman, possibly blonde and wearing a miniskirt, with a liberal arts education who knows about Homer but is ignorant of real life. We meet her at a critical juncture where she is getting curious about boys and the big bad outside world.
I found the constant asides and puns to be a little distracting. A few are humanising and character developing, but starting nearly every chapter with a break from the main story to indulge in jokes and publishing industry gossip kind of broke the spell of the journey of the talking animals. It makes the book more childish than it needs to be, and it is already a very simple, very digestible piece of literature for a teenager. It probably needed to age-up to better appeal to adults. However with so many adults reading in the Young Adult and Middle School age brackets now, maybe Duchovy has pitched this just right. It could easily be the kind of story you read to your kids and use as a springboard into discussing ethics. Sometimes the naïve voice in satire can shine a light on strange systems and practices we have grown to accept.
I particularly liked observations about the roles and personalities of other animals. About dogs: “I actually feel sorry for them a little, ‘cause they’re neither here nor there, neither fully animal or fully human; they’re caught somewhere between a wolf and a man, wild and mild”.
Overall this is a book that would suit people who are just getting back into reading for fun. It is light and fun, uses everyday language and conversational sentences, and is broken into manageable mini-chapters. It is also a book that would lend itself to being read aloud, as the dialogue is strong and mostly in screenplay format. Duchovny knows how to write, and how to structure, but I think he has pulled his punches with the political commentary. What we have here is a conversation starter for the young and the people who like to read young. It is fresh and new and I’m sure Duchovny has more great writing ahead of him.
I will leave you with an excerpt: “I’m not upset that India did not turn out as I had planned, didn’t in the end match up with my dream of India. Without my vision of a dream of India, I never would have gone anywhere, never would have had any adventures at all. So I guess it’s not so important that dreams come true, it’s just important that you have a dream to begin with, to get you to take your first steps.”