‘Going Bovine’ by Libba Bray

Dana Thompson

Occasionally the serious reader needs to take a detour into crazy town, and Libba Bray’s “Going Bovine” is headed straight there.

A freaky, weird and darkly humorous reading experience, “Going Bovine” is the story of Cameron Smith, a record store employee who is surprised one day to have hallucinations as a result of what he believes to be a bad trip. The continuation of these hallucinations combined with multiple trips to drug counselors convinces Cam that something else might be up, and a trip to the hospital reveals the impossible: Cam has contracted mad cow disease.

Bedridden, Cam is visited by his fractured family and by increasingly weirder other entities, like Dulcie the punk-rock angel. She is literally an angel; she’s got wings and everything. In addition to Dulcie is Grover, a gay, video game-playing dwarf who accompanies Cam on adventures across the country to Disney World and beyond. They search for the elusive Dr. X––the only one who can save Cam’s life––and make friends with the Norse god Balder, who has been imprisoned by the trickster Loki inside a garden gnome.

Occasionally flashing back to Cam’s bed in the hospital, “Going Bovine” is just surreal enough to be utterly captivating. I was not expecting it to be as weird as it is when I read it; one can only hope that a book with a golden seal on the front cover is going to be good. And, after I got over my initial shock at the utterly ridiculous plot, I found myself completely spellbound. I also found myself convinced that I, too, was suffering from mad cow disease, but that was just a complication of being a very impressionable hypochondriac.

To anyone eager for a reading experience that finally deviates from the norm, I recommend taking a look at the unbridled strangeness that unfolds within the pages of “Going Bovine.” Bray, unbelievably, is able to make the reader care intensely about the fates of these insane characters that may or may not actually be real. Balder’s nobility, Dulcie’s rebelliousness and Gonzo’s journey of self-worth convey the most bizarre but real pathos. That, I think, is the real draw here: the novel’s ability to find truth in fantasy, seriousness in absurdity.

And, although the ending leaves no doubt of what has happened, the fantasy clings to the reader in a most tantalizing way. Rarely have I been caught so unawares as I was when reading “Going Bovine.”