Holy Cow By David Duchovny, $24.
David Duchovny’s debut novel is not quite a children’s book. And it’s not quite novel, either. Holy Cow features bovine heroine Elsie and her sidekicks Tom (a turkey) and Shalom (a pig). After Elsie spies the farmer watching a documentary on factory farming, she divines her fate and plans her escape. These anthropomorphic beings leave their home and end up taking a flight to the Middle East, where they hope to find sanctuary. While it seems there’s a story Duchovny wants to tell—about religion, hatred, maybe even veganism?—the pieces of this puzzle don’t quite fit together.
Elsie narrates in an affected, pop-cultured voice (“My name is Elsie, yes, I know. And that’s no bull. See?” “I’m totes cray-cray.”) Unfortunately, the kind of smart-alecky, ironic wisecrack that worked so well for Duchovny on Californication doesn’t read on the page with the same charm. It gets old fast. Are we to take Elsie seriously, even when she makes observations about the human race? Sometimes it’s hard to tell, and Duchovny’s style reads like your old man telling you things the kids are saying. Elsie’s take on all things cow is colored by a voice you’d likely find on Twitter. “Look, this isn’t a gossipy tell-all;” she says, describing milking. “I’m not here to grind axes and settle scores, but sometimes I just gotta calls ’em likes I sees ’em. The brother was rough on the teats.”
At times Elsie speaks directly to the reader, giving us the inside scoop on conversations with her editor. This makes for bizarre reading, as it’s clear that Duchovny wants us to know just how to read his book: “[M]y editor says human adults won’t take a talking animal seriously (‘Why not?’ I asked. ‘What about Animal Farm and Charlotte’s Web? Babe?’ And she goes, ‘Elsie, Elsie, Elsie, times have changed, and anyway, this isn’t an allegory, this is a true story … blah, blah, blah’). So she’s gonna market it as a kids’ book, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” These intrusions are so frequent that they distract. If Duchovny would have just trusted his reader to “get it”—or trusted himself to tell the story—it would have been easier going.
There are so many logical problems with the cow/turkey/pig caper that the author actually addresses them near the end, and then tells us not to worry much about any of it. Ultimately, this novel isn’t one you think about too hard. It isn’t going to change hearts and minds. That said, it’s easy to forgive the myriad problems of the book if you simply love Duchovny. I suspect that a good many readers of Holy Cow will be people who adore the actor and want to read his voice. On that promise, it delivers. And bully for Duchovny for putting himself out there, puns and all. “I can no longer be part of the herd,” he (Elsie) says. “I want to be heard.”