Thursday, April 3, 2014
Steven is 25 years old and miserable. He lives with his abusive mother who calls the Hagbeast. She is a disgusting, corpulent, abusive creature who paralyzed his dog (his only friend) and makes his every waking moment there as painful and horrible as possible. He just started working at a slaughterhouse and the job is his only escape from home. His dream is to have a wife, a child, and a normal home like he sees on TV. A woman moves in upstairs named Lucy who is obsessed with surgeries and finding poisons inside herself. Steven sees his future with Lucy and just needs to somehow get his mother out of the way, so he plans to kill her. What follows is disturbing, disgusting, and bizarre.
Cows is basically The Human Centipede of books, except that in addition to being completely disgusting and bizarre, it has an actual message. This book is one of the most disgusting and disturbing that I've ever read. Here is a list of things included: bestiality, vivisection, excrement eating, murder, necrophilia, rape, talking cows, infanticide, self surgery, abuse, and cannibalism, among others. I was so happy I didn't eat at all while reading because it made me lose any semblance of appetite I may have had. Despite all its grossness and bizarre situations, parts of the novel are quite funny. Cows is a pitch black satire with a hugely healthy dose of surrealism and the bizarre. Lucy and Steven are weirdly relatable even though they are not even remotely likable. Lucy knows something is wrong with her and can't find it no matter how hard she tries. Steven just wants conventional loved ones and place to call home. Stokoe makes me feel for them and relate to their situations through all of the craziness. Without this element, I don't think I could have finished the book. I read Cows in a couple days. It was kind of like a train wreck that I couldn't bring myself to look away.
I am relieved that this book exists more than just to gross people out. Steven is obsessed with the media's version of a nuclear family. He longs to have a loving mother, a doting wife, beautiful children, a big house, and a successful job. He tries to force people into the roles he dreams of or obliterates them when they don't fit. As he works to build this reality based on illusion, he forgets that Lucy is insane and doesn't really want to have children. After opting to ignore the brewing trouble and completely ignore Lucy and her needs, their relationship implodes in gore. That ideal life portrayed in the media is unattainable for many. Steven learns the hard way that people aren't characters for him to populate his fantasy. He also spent much of his life being dominated and abused by his mother. Instead of overcoming her abuse, he internalized it and became an oppressor on a much wider scale than his mother. He essentially became her and went well beyond her scope of abuse despite viscerally hating her. Because of these issues, and many more, Cows does more than sicken.
Cows is a bizarre novel that requires a strong constitution to read. Avoid it at all costs if you are in any way squeamish. Matthew Stokoe succeeds in creating a abhorrent and memorable story with something real beneath all the layers of various and sundry bodily fluids. The only problem I had with the book was the ending. It was kind of a let down and paled in the face of the rest of the book that was so extreme and in your face.
My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins