NEW! Book review: ‘Holy Cow’ by David Duchovny

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By Jim Basile For The Oklahoman • Published: August 30, 2015

“Holy Cow” by David Duchovny (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 224 pages, in stores)

David Duchovny, star of the hit TV series “The X-Files,” has penned a hilarious and thought-provoking novel with a unique protagonist, Elsie Bovary, and a slapstick supporting cast.

Elsie is a cow living on a farm in upstate New York, and her life there is “pretty chill.” Despite the repetitive nature of her existence (every day she is milked, spends some time in the field, is milked again and sleeps in a barn), she feels that even the rainy days are sunny in their own way.

Elsie and her best friend Mallory are beginning to take an interest in the young bulls on the farm, and one evening they sneak out through an unlatched gate to go talk to the bulls. Elsie is excited but at the same time a bit apprehensive so she excuses herself under the pretense of going to look for something with which to break the lock on the bulls’ pen.

Elsie wanders around and slowly makes her way to the farmhouse. Through a window she sees the farm family gathered together and staring, “transfixed and bored at the same time,” at a talking, glowing box.

She’s about to turn away when she sees something “so shocking it rocked my world off its axis.” Chickens crammed into endless cages, hundreds of pigs smashed together inside pens, and then — the cows. Full-scale cow murder, swift and efficient. Hanging carcasses skinned, gutted and chopped up. Endless blood. Elsie passes out.

When she returns to the barn later, Mallory is still on a high from socializing with the bulls, but Elsie doesn’t have the heart to tell her about what she just witnessed.


This is what Elsie refers to as “The Event,” after which it is impossible for her to think about life in the same way. She keeps seeing the images in her head and starts to feel “dead inside.”

She had been harboring anger at her mother for disappearing one day without a word, but now she understands. It wasn’t her mother’s fault. It was the humans.

Time passes, and Elsie regularly sneaks out at night, wandering around, followed by the “black dog” of depression. The more she thinks about it, the more her anger towards humans builds. She thinks about conversations she had with her mother in the past and starts to imagine new ones.

Her mother offers her some advice: “Don’t hate. Hate is like a poison you make for your enemy that you end up swallowing yourself.” She also suggests that perhaps Elsie should give the glowing box another chance, that perhaps there’s more to be learned.

One night Elsie is watching the box again and learns about India, a place where cows are considered — can it be? — sacred! And most certainly not eaten. Why, Elsie muses, that must be paradise! She must find a way to get there. She comes up with a simple plan: When spring arrives, she’ll simply walk to the airport in the city and board a flight to India.

Through the animal grapevine, Jerry the pig finds out about Elsie’s planned trip and wants to go with her. He himself would like to go to Israel. They detest pigs there, but at least they wouldn’t try to eat him. And from now on he’d like to be called “Shalom.”

On another night, a turkey named (of course) Tom Turkey, shows up. He is very skinny, on purpose. Who would want to eat a skinny turkey? He’s done some research of his own and has decided that his destiny lies in — where else? — Turkey. He’s got a cellphone that he can operate with his beak. That could come in handy, so he’s in.

They do some planning, order the tickets, practice walking on two legs, and before they know it the night of departure arrives. The three of them simply walk away.

The next morning they get to the city. They steal some clothing for disguises (raincoats, sunglasses and hats, naturally) and find food in dumpsters. They encounter shady rats, a mohel and a drug-sniffing dog with a poor sense of smell.

They board their flight and Tom, amazed that he is finally “flying,” spends a lot of time in the cockpit. After landing in Turkey, they steal a small plane and head to Israel. There they meet Joe Camel, the cigarette mascot, and the Middle East will never be the same again.

Eventually they all end up in India. Everywhere they go, people treat them well. Finally, they encounter a group of sacred cows, but what Elsie learns from them isn’t quite what she expected.

“Holy Cow” is essentially a fable for adults. Duchovny addresses some serious issues, but the buoyant, near-constant humor saves this book from being a vanity project, and in the end it is quite uplifting and — ahem — moo-ving.

— Jim Basile, for The Oklahoman


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