An Audible choice which I saw a lot of on my twitter timeline as a seraingly funny, feminist, acerbic game-changer, I was quite excited to listen to this first adult book from Dawn O’Porter.
Boy, was I disappointed.
COW n. /ka?/
A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.
Women don’t have to fall into a stereotype.
The Cows is a powerful novel about three women. In all the noise of modern life, each needs to find their own voice.
It’s about friendship and being female.
It’s bold and brilliant.
It’s searingly perceptive.
It’s about never following the herd.
And everyone is going to be talking about it.
This book, at its most basic, follows the lives of three women, who are all connected by the loosest of circumstances. There’s Cam, a lifestyle blogger, and feminist, who is still struggling to convince her mother that her choice of being single and childless doesn’t make her a lesbian – or broken. Then there’s Stella, who’s still reeling from the loss of her mother and sister in less than a year, and the discovery that she has the BRCA gene, together with the attendant medical issues that brings. Finally we have Tara, a single mother of a six year old who’s trying to forge her way through the male-dominated world of documentary television.
The stories of these three women are loosely intertwined, although they become closer as the book progresses, and as three women in very different circumstances, many aspects of womanhood, femininity, and feminism are discussed – from pizza farts to periods, masturbation to mastectomies, nothing is off-limits in this no-holds-barred exposé of three very different women’s lives.
My problem with this book was that while lots of the discussion and themes in it were great – women being valued only for their ability to bear children, the nature of online criticism, the distinction between public and private lives, abortion, working women, and far more – they were all concealed under a horrendously slapstick storyline that was as cringeworthy as it was unbelievable.
Tara’s story especially was littered with the kind of humiliating episodes that I suspect would have been deemed by some as ‘screamingly funny’, but left me wincing (literally). If I had been reading, rather than listening, I think that many times during this book I would have closed one eye (or both) in horror, but that’s not so advisable when you’re driving, so I had to keep them open.
Then there was the sheer unbelievability of so many aspects of this story. There was Tara on the train, where she thought she was alone, but turned out not to be. It was never explained where the guy came from, or how Tara didn’t notice him. Infuriating. Jason, the male interest in the book, had an incident with a cyclist which was so unbelievable as to be eye-rolling. Cam’s staircase incident was not only awful, but also terribly written and thought through – apparently in fifteen hours none of her downstairs neighbours ventured outside their front doors, you see. Then there was the scene near the end with Jason, Stella, and Tara, which was timed something like those clichéd film scenes where the love interest storms down the aisle just as the officiant asks if anyone knows of any impediment to the marriage. God, the whole thing had me cringing so many times I didn’t know what to do with myself.
I really wanted to like this book. It was supposed to be funny, fierce, and feminist. But actually it ended up being a hot mess of three unlikeable characters who stumbled from unbelievable situation to horrendous overreaction to frankly ridiculous conclusions.
Finally, one major (I mean HUGE) plot point rested on Jason, the male lead, not having seen the news, read a paper, been online, or in fact spoken to anyone, for the three-week duration of the book. When the entire premise of the book is based on the pervasiveness of the media and the damaging impact viral videos can have on the lives of those in them, this was just a step way too far.
The Cows was an overblown, overhyped, overwritten, melodramatic mess, and I didn’t enjoy it at all, even though I really wanted to. I was so disappointed by something I thought would be so great.