Finally, a review! I’ve got several more in the works, but I need to start with GOING BOVINE, which I read ages ‘n’ ages ago. I love Libba Bray. No really. I love this woman. Biggest crush ever. Not only is she a phenomenal writer, she’s also ridiculously charming and funny and adorable in person. And she has an incredible singing voice with excellent taste in music. AND SHE HAS A GLASS EYE. THIS MEANS SHE IS MADE OF AWESOME.
Cameron’s just an ordinary 16-year-old boy looking to survive high school. Unfortunately, after being diagnosed with Creutzfeldt–Jakob’s disease (the human form of mad cow disease), it looks as though he may not survive at all. The disease has no cure and is invariably fatal, but that doesn’t mean he’s giving up. One day, while hospitalized for treatment, a punk-rock angel with a bad sugar habit named Dulcie walks into his room and tells him there is a cure–if he’s willing to go on a quest.
What follows is a surreal road trip across the country with a hypochondriac midget named Gonzo and the Norse god Balder enchanted into the form of a lawn gnome as Cameron and his companions try to find Dr. X, a missing international rock phenomenon, and save the world along the way.
Libba Bray has called it, “The feel-good mad cow disease road trip book of the year”. She’s right. Never mind the fact that’s probably the only mad cow disease road trip book ever written. That doesn’t diminish my love one whit.
GOING BOVINE is a marked departure from her previous bestselling series A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, which were Victorian girls school novels with magic. (That is grossly over-simplifying the books and I loved them to pieces, especially REBEL ANGELS.) Those books were lush, beautiful coming-of-age stories and GOING BOVINE is…not.
When I first came across the Gemma Doyle books, I went and hunted Libba Bray down on the internet and came across her very hilarious blog. Libba (because we are BFF now, don’t you see? She even gave me permission to stalk her when I was at Books of Wonder!) is very, very funny. You don’t necessarily understand that right away if you’ve only read the Gemma Doyle books. It’s not as if they don’t have a sense of humour, but one can hardly call them “lighthearted” or “comic”. They are weighty and heartbreaking and gorgeous. One would imagine the writer of such novels to be stately and dignified.
Libba is neither, but I don’t think she’d take offense at me saying so. She has something much better than dignity–talent and an infectious sense of fun. But more than that, she has a way of turning something incredibly sad and tragic into something sharp and poignant with an economy of words. (Not that the page count of THE SWEET FAR THING would ever convince you of that.) She is a writer with incredible range, something you can definitely pick out on her blog. For instance, she once wrote this post about the passing of a friend that made me sniffle. She’s also summarized A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY through Twitterspeak which made me snort my coffee. But the one post I think encapsulates what Libba is able to do best is her entry about birthdays past and present.
There is a picture of me on my back porch in Corpus Christi. I am chubby, with glasses and stringy hair and I am wearing some kind of misguided hippie tunic in white seersucker with strawberry appliqués on the collar. I am flanked by the twins—Laura and Lisa. Laura is my bestie at the time and Lisa barely tolerates my existence. By I have a Cher single, so there. We have just eaten pizza and chocolate cake. In the middle of the night, I will come down with a stomach virus and refuse to eat pizza for two years. No such fatwa is issued for the cake.
My college boyfriend breaks up with me.
I would have gone with a gift certificate myself.
It is my first birthday since my father moved out of the house. My mother cooks my favorite, spaghetti. There are cupcakes, presents, photos. We smile and pretend nothing is different.
I have a costume party with only four people. That’s not a party. That’s a bizarre art exhibition.
Barry takes me out to lunch. I am wearing a black wrap dress held together by the capricious physics of a snap. It is a dress I wear when I want to feel super foxy. We are ready to leave. As I make my way back from the restroom and through the restaurant, the eyes of everyone are upon me, and I think, “That’s right. I make 27 look goooood, people!” Cue wind machine and thumping bass line in my head. At the door, Barry stands, transfixed, his mouth hanging open. I am a golden god. And when I get close enough, he whispers urgently, “Your dress is wide open!”
Barry takes me out to lunch. I wear jeans. I am older and wiser.
Or maybe just less stupid about wrap dresses. :-)
I know I’ve quoted nearly the entire post, but there’s so much awesome contained within it, I was hard-pressed to choose. In some ways Libba’s work reminds me of the best parts of Frank McCourt’s ANGELA’S ASHES, when humour is sometimes the best and only way to deal with tragic circumstances.
GOING BOVINE does just that. Sometimes you have to laugh because you can’t cry. The premise (surreal road trip across country) may sound ridiculous and somewhat heavy-handed, but I promise you it is not. In a Wizard of Oz-like way, Cameron encounters people and places that have corresponding parallels from people and places in his life before contracting the disease. Death looms over this novel because you know there is no end for Cameron but eternity, but it’s not maudlin, sentimental, or didactic. Instead you have something funny, moving, and weird, but all in the best sense possible.
I won’t reveal much more of the novel. To talk about the Copenhagen Interpretation or The Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack-N-Bowl and their satirical hilarity would ruin the fun of reading it for yourself. Go get it. RUN!