The Norman Transcript

May 4, 2012

‘How now Mad Cow’

By KL Marc
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — “Going Bovine” by Libba Bray is, at its barest, a modern re-imagining of Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.” And it’s fantastic.

Instead of an elderly gentlemen with a loose grip on reality taking it upon himself to be a knight with his surprisingly gentle squire Sancho, we have Cameron: A teenager recently diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob (Mad-Cow Disease) setting off on an adventure to cure himself and probably — hopefully — save the world while he’s at it.

A ride full of comedy, awkward teenage situations, physicists, and music, ‘Bovine” is a fast, action-paced read composed of hilarious comments and antics. But it’s underscored with grief, loss, mystery, and the idea of significance in everything.

With Cameron is an asthmatic, hypochondriac dwarf, Gonzo; a pink-haired, rocker-esq angel in combat boots, Dulcie; and an immortal Norse god cursed to the form of a garden gnome, Balder.

Told from Cameron’s point of view, we see the world through his jaded, “I’m a drifter — right downstream and over the falls with the rest of the driftwood,” eyes. But even a drifter doesn’t just want to die, even if his cynical view of the world didn’t leave much to be desired.

And for the first time since Cameron was five and he leapt off the boat during Disney World’s ‘Small World’ ride, he has to take a pro-active stance in his life and act. And that act is leaving the hospital and certain death to follow the advice/request of Dulcie. His adventure will lead him to his cure and the mysterious Dr. X, who unwittingly released a dark force of chaos onto the world (Maybe, possibly, because what if it’s all just a hallucination?).

“Going Bovine” opens your eyes. While Cameron is trekking across country, to save himself and the world, he’s not only struggling with the idea of death but he is also struggling with the idea of living.

And while he does (or doesn’t) travel to New Orleans, to see a once-believed dead trumpeter, and does (or doesn’t) travel to a teenage cult focused on being happy, and does (or doesn’t) crash the biggest spring break party in, like, ever, he has an adventure to be envied.

Cameron’s witty, and slightly snarky, view of life, mixed up with his life-and-death situation, makes for a “never forget me” read. And by the end, the reader is right there with Cameron, wondering if they too had reached their demise or their cure.

And why read a book where the hero is more than likely going to die? Because maybe it’s not all just a mad hallucination? Because maybe we need to learn to live just like Cameron does? Or maybe, just like the Norse god gnome, Balder, says, “Cameron is our brother, our friend, and we do not abandon our friends. ... This is a quest. I pledged my loyalty to Cameron back on the cul-de-sac. I shall see it through to the end.”

Plus, this book reads like someone shoved Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and John Irving into the blender and hit puree.

This book will definitely make you appreciate the world around you, and, at the same time, make you question it and your place in it. This isn’t a simple “why am I here” book. This is a complex “why on earth does life feel like a poorly made fun house?” book.