Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Jesus Cow

Humorist Michael Perry (Coop) makes a foray into fiction with The Jesus Cow, a novel about a small Midwest community that is transformed in profound and hilarious ways by a bull calf born in a barn on Christmas Eve.

Perry sets the story in Swivel, Wis.--population exaggerated at 562--only visible from the interstate by a long-stemmed, halogen-lit Kwik Pump gasoline sign whose "logo glows against the sky." He focuses on resident Harley Jackson, who lives in the house where he grew up, on 15 acres of deteriorating farmland. When his prized cow, Tina Turner, delivers a bull calf bearing the image of Jesus Christ on its black-and-white patchwork hide, Harley, a born-again believer, doesn't drop to his knees. Instead, he says, "Well, that's trouble."

Whether the calf was marked by God or not, Harley doesn't want anything to disturb his manageable, unassuming life. But when the Jesus calf escapes from the barn, the animal's image goes viral. Harley's upper Midwest farm soon becomes an international spiritual destination--a circus that sends the town residents into a tizzy. 

As in Truck: A Love Story and Visiting Tom, Perry once again delivers his own brand of outlandishness through rich, endearing characterizations of quirky small-town folks, and how their zany foibles and flaws mask underlying disappointments, secrets and longings. By deploying humor in depicting the often painful truths and absurdities of life, Perry successfully makes much larger statements about society and the human condition.

Harper, $25.99 Hardcover, 9780062289919, 304 pp
Publication Date: May 19, 2015
To order via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (5/26/15), click HERE

This review was also featured (in a longer form) on Shelf Awareness: Book Trade (5/11/15). To read the longer review click HERE

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Love and romance reside at the heart of British author William Nicholson's work, be it in his screenplays (Shadowlands) or in his prose fiction (Motherland). In his historical novel, Amherst, two secret love affairs--past and present--come together under the influence of poet, Emily Dickinson, who has a vivid impact on all their lives.

Nicholson threads the needle of his intriguing, well-plotted narrative with Alice Dickinson, a contemporary, 20-something, London copywriter whose shared last name with the poet draws her to Emily's work. Alice travels to Amherst, Ma., to research a screenplay she's writing about the real-life, 1880s love affair between Austin Dickinson, Emily's 50 year-old, unhappily married brother, and Mabel Loomis Todd, the 24 year-old wife of an Amherst College professor.

Once Alice arrives in the States, she boards in the home of Nick Crocker, a handsome, married, charismatic English Literature academic in his fifties. Alice's research into the mysteries of love, fidelity and passion is soon complicated when she and Nick begin an affair that ultimately parallels the intense complexity found in Austin and Mabel's relationship that was secretly consummated in the home that Emily Dickinson shared with her sister, Vinny. 

The plotlines of these tender, revealing love stories are told via alternating chapters. Nicholson draws from historical texts and includes letters along with Dickinson's poems in order to fictionally recreate the long-standing affair between Austin and Mabel—and the significant role that Emily, an enigmatic spinster-recluse, played in their romance, as well as how Emily's ghost permeates the relationship between Alice and Nick.

 by William Nicholson
Simon & Schuster, $26 Hardcover, 9781476740409, 304 pp   
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (2/17/15), click HERE