First line: "On Christmas Eve itself, the bachelor Harley Jackson stepped into his barn and beheld there illuminated in the straw a smallish newborn bull calf upon whose flank was borne the very image of Our Lord and Savoir Jesus Christ."
Harley Jackson is a quiet sort. He lives on what's left of his family farm, raises beefers, works for a local manufacturer and volunteers for the Swivel, Wisconsin, fire department. Harley doesn't make waves and he likes his routine way of life. But starting with the birth of the calf bearing the unmistakable image of Christ, this year is going to shake the very foundation of Harley's peaceful routine.
Harley dislikes confrontation. So when ego-driven land developer Klute Sorensen begins trying to weasel Harley out of his farm, Harley prefers just to ignore him. The legal letters start piling up but Harley leaves them unopened.
A new face arrives in Swivel that steals Harley's attention and immediately after, his heart. Mindy Johnson stirs feelings in the long-time bachelor he hasn't experienced since college. The motorcycle-driving welder adds a sparkle to his eye and a bounce to his step.
But the calf. What can Harley do about the calf? He knows if its existence leaks out, people will go crazy. The last thing Harley wants in his life is crazy. Should he hide the calf? Disguise the birthmark? Sell the bovine? He can't decide, so fate decides for him and his life will never be the same.
The Jesus Cow cleverly folds humor into a serious exploration of current society. The result may leave readers wondering exactly how they feel about Harley's situation, which makes this an incredibly powerful novel. It initiates introspective examination. Personally, I was able to empathize with Harley, and I think that's largely because I could identify with him: not wanting the spotlight, being content with routine, appreciating the little things, and coveting my personal space. But most of all I connected with Harley's good intentions. Knowing the pain of having your best intentions misunderstood or worse, ignored, illuminates many of Harley's experiences in a heart-breaking, flashing neon light.
Through unsubtle characters, Perry indirectly offers up intriguing thoughts on capitalism, religion, compassion and community. The characters are simultaneously larger than life and everyman. Drawn with exceptional dimension and meticulous detail, they employ flawless dialogue and deliver Perry's shrewd humor with flair.
Mayberry collided violently with Hollywood and the result is The Jesus Cow. Explosive, insightful, entertaining and smart, The Jesus Cow is Michael Perry's first stab at fiction. Let's hope it isn't the last.
The Jesus Cow is available in hardcover from Harper (9780062289919) and as an unabridged audio (9781504611336), narrated by Perry himself, from Harper Audio and Blackstone Audio.
My review today is part of the TLC book tour for The Jesus Cow. Check the schedule to see what other bloggers are saying about Michael Perry's fiction debut. You can also connect with Michael at his website, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work with them does not obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.