- - Thursday, February 19, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

HOLY COW

By David Duchovny

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24, 207 pages

Elsie Bovary is a good name for a cow: Elsie, which immediately brings to mind the Borden Company cow, and Bovary, Flaubert’s restless heroine whose name is derived from the late Latin “bovinus.” Thus it is entirely fitting for that star of stage, screen and television, David Duchovny, to name his heroine “Elsie Bovary” for Elsie is one adventurous cow.

“Holy Cow” is an absurd story, but it is bubbling with puns, some preaching and a number of moral lessons. It’s not great literature, but it is great fun, and the reader will chuckle throughout.

Elsie enjoys her days in the pasture chatting with her girlfriend, Mallory; she enjoys being milked by the farmer’s son, despite the fact that she is giving milk without ever having had a calf. She is writing her autobiography, told via cow-writer, David Duchovny — a necessity since Elsie has no fingers with which to hold a pen.

Elsie’s language is very down-to-earth and sounds much like youthful Californiaspeak. Part of her story is told in “screenplay form,” encouraged by her editor who thinks in terms of selling her tale to the movies.

When the barnyard gate is unexpectedly left open one night, Elsie and Mallory venture out, Mallory to flirt with the bulls and Elsie to wander down to the farmhouse where she looks through the window at the family sitting “quietly staring at a lighted box. The people were hushed like the light box was their god and this Box God was talking, or saying words anyway, and the people seemed both transfixed and bored at the same time.” While watching this God Box, Elsie sees images of a meat packing plant with chickens in cages, cows kept in tight metal chutes and then hit on the head with a metal rod.

Elsie is horrified, but she continues to go on her nighttime excursions and learns from watching the Box God that “cows are considered gods themselves in this India place and that no one eats them.” Elsie realizes what her ultimate fate will be and decides to go to India; she tells her plan to Mallory. “In the movie version, you’d have cool music playing, preferably a big hit from last summer, as I talk animatedly to Mallory and you see her wide eyes go even wider. Kind of a montage but not totally.”

Mallory chooses not to go, but Jerry the pig finds out about Elsie’s plan and offers to go with her. “I got skills, I got mad skills, I got skills to pay the bills, Pigs are wicked smart. We are well liked. I can help,” he tells her. He wants to go to Israel where they don’t eat pigs. In preparation for his new life, he changes his name to Shalom and starts using a New York accent. Tom turkey also asks to go with the two as it was nearing Thanksgiving and his life was in danger. He wants to go to Turkey; he has a cellular phone for them to use. Tom was “rail thin and his feathers were all uncombed, flying off in every direction. Even so, he seemed a bit vain and impressed with himself, and walked with the confident strut of a pimp from a ‘70s blaxploitation movie.”

The trio make their plans, which include practicing “walking on two legs, at least Shalom and I did, so we could better fit in without drawing so much attention to ourselves as four-legged creatures …”

They set off for the airport, (“It was a pretty moonless night. It was pretty, and it was moonless, so it was pretty moonless”), encounter and overcome a wolf en route, steal raincoats, glasses and hats so they wouldn’t stand out, and Shalom finds a mohel before their departure so he could be circumcised. Tickets were bought with the cellphone, charged to the farmer, as were the passports stolen from the farmer’s underwear drawer.

Things do not turn out quite as expected. Flying to Turkey, Tom discovers his life’s calling is to fly, so upon landing the threesome steal a plane and Tom flies it to Israel, where they are chased first by a group of Muslims then by a group of Jews until Joe Camel, former model, rescues them. On to Mumbai where Elsie is a queen. The three — Shalom and Tom riding on Elsie’s back — spend months “eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping, being worshipped.”

But Elsie has a run-in with the local cows and decides that the dream is more important than the reality. “Holy Cow” has a happy ending for our three friends. It’s a goofy story, a combination allegory, fable and fairy tale. Despite the politically correct preaching that occurs from time to time, it’s charming, amusing and light of heart, illustrated most appropriately by artist Natalya Balnova. Suspend reality and make believe you are a child who believes that cows can jump over the moon — Elsie could if she wanted to.

Corinna Lothar is a Washington writer and critic.


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