The Cows by Dawn O'Porter

Genre: Fiction
Synopsis: 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.

Review: This review contains HEAVY SPOILERS.

Before I say anything else, I want to acknowledge that The Cows is indeed ridiculous in a number of ways. Tara is a ridiculously neglectful mother, for someone who attempts to defend the idea that keeping the result of a one night stand is a good idea, and then behaves in a way that no adult in possession of a single brain cell would do. Stella is batshit insane. And the odds of what happened to Cam (the stairs, not the pregnancy) are ridiculously low, as are the odds of the public knowing her condition in detail so fast (or at all).  But the point is, and this is perhaps most clear when you consider Cam's case, that they are all plot points around which questions are raised and discussions provoked. And that is the entire point of the novel. So I'm giving it a pass on that front. And the questions are what I'm going to discuss here.

Now, let's look at it a little more closely.

Cam: First, as a childfree, socially anxious introvert who lived her late teens and twenties mostly via the medium of the internet, I have to say that I adored Cam and her character, to me, was pretty much flawless. I love, love, LOVE the positive representation of this kind of woman in a novel. She had no major flaws at all really, as her plot twists were the kind of (albeit far-fetched) accidents that can and do happen in real life. I mean, I fear forgetting to get my implant changed, because I genuinely can't tell you this minute when that's due to happen - I think it's sometime in the Summer 2020, but this is why they give you a card to put in your wallet, right? Anyway. I loved Cam. While at times she definitely felt like a soapbox upon which the author stood (all the characters did, let's be honest), she also did a good job of representing the childfree lifestyle while being ultimately considerate to and defensive of those who choose to have kids, and those who cannot have kids. But she didn't just talk about the good life (being childfree), her character's world helped illustrate two things - one, how it's not always good to have kids, how not everyone is naturally a mother (via her sister Mel) and also how many concessions are expected to be made by the childfree in child-filled world. (E.g., her sister coming into her home and telling her off for not wearing a bra, in her own home, because of the children. Sorry, my home, my rules. If you kids can't handle the sight of a pair of nipples you've got your work cut out for you). I could list endless examples from my own life (people seeking discounts and faster services "because I have kids with me" or "so many kids") when the only response I can offer is 'well, maybe you should have thought of that before you had kids'. And that's what it comes down to - I love the representation of the alternative to people considering AFTER their kids are born, that maybe they should have thought about it more, or planned. And the mere existence of Cam's character in a popular novel is a good start. Pro tip for life - before you have kids, ask yourself two things - is having that child a good thing, for the child, and for the world around you, and more importantly, is it a kind thing that you are doing? Is it kind to create that human? As Cam would have you do, just consider the alternatives. And then, you do you. My only real issue with her story is that she didn't need to be killed, her pregnancy could have come out via Mark, and then once she had the abortion, she could have gone back to her old life. I'm taking a whole star away from the book from not including her having a successful abortion and living out her life happily.

Tara: Okay so I had two big qualms with Tara's storyline. One was that she's a blatantly incompetent mother. The scenes with the rotten chicken and cardboard box hurt my heart, and I don't even like kids. I felt so badly for Annie for having a shit mother. Tara repeatedly defends herself as being a good mother, but no, she is not. There are few to no points at which she proves herself a good mother, so I found that frustrating. Fortunately, as a result of that, Annie was a largely left-aside plot device for demonstrating the impact of personal idiocy on not just yourself, but vulnerable others. The second issue I had with Tara was that, at absolutely NO POINT in the book, does ANYBODY state the obvious issue with what she did. In response to being called a pervert, she says she was alone and will not apologize for being a sexual creature, or a sexual woman (which is fine) doing something when she thought she was alone. Hon, the point isn't that you masturbated. It's also nothing to do with being alone - that's no defense. The point is, you did it in a public place. That's the problem. You don't do those things in public. Now, if you want to try and defend doing it in public, fine, I'd love to see that defense. But 'I thought I was alone and so will not apologise' is not a defense for doing something potentially illegal in a public space. Also, it's just plain stupid. That said, I did love Tara for standing up to the public, and for not backing down when things got rougher and rougher. In the end, she took control of her mistake and made something of it. And in doing so, she showed the world around her up for the shallow, fair weather people they are, thriving on the humiliation and mistakes of others until it suits them for those to become their heroes. There's a lot of food for thought around how women get treated versus men (there was a famous case in Ireland of a teenage girl giving oral sex at a festival, and while she was slut shamed, the guy was branded a legend, which is a good starting point for that discussion). There's also a lot of food for thought around the Internet, viral sensations, mob mentality and the anonymity of the Internet not only enabling but almost encouraging people to let their vicious sides show. I think the best part of Tara's story is that it highlights the importance of having a central unit which suffers with you and supports you, because at the end of the day, that's what really matters. Even in the age of the viral video, we can move past the discrimination and hypocrisy of others.

Stella: My biggest qualm with this storyline is that her mental health is never actually explored. We can deduce from her behaviour that she is, as I have so judgmentally called her, batshit insane. But what if she's not? Obviously, her actions are outrageous and far-fetched, but while we judge the actions we probably shouldn't judge the person when we don't actually know anything about her mental health. I can't imagine going through what she does in this book, and even a cursory few sessions with a counsellor which give us an insight, a benchmark, for how she might be deeply depressed. We think it's sad when someone is so depressed they end their own life, but trying to get pregnant to give meaning to yours because the most important people in your life are already dead - that's crazy, rather than sad? So for me, Stella is a bandwagon, one I've seen almost every reviewer pile onto, in which they do what I did at the beginning of this review - judge, demean, disregard, and insult her. And I think it's genius. Stella makes us into the very people that Tara and Cam find themselves under fire from, the people who spout harsh opinions without knowing the full story. In the end, I'm glad she was able to move past her issues, and get the surgery without having a child. A great addition would have been her going down the adoption route, as she dismisses that earlier in the book. Not everyone will agree with me on that, but I think it's also food for thought.

So that's the three characters. Overall, how does it all fit together? For me, very well. Tara and Stella had massive flaws and problems, made mistakes, did dumb things, dealt with the fallout, and came through in the end. Cam was overall excellent, let down by a poor ending. The selling point of it for me, is the amount of thinking I did while reading this. Just look at the length of this review. If I book which addresses social issues provokes me to think so much that I write an essay of opinion on it, then it's done a very good job of asking questions, without providing specific answers. In fact, the only answer I would say this book does give follows on from what I ended Tara's segement with - that its important to be true to yourself, surround yourself with people who are also true to themselves and you, and with that support, you can make anything of yourself.

Rating: 4/5

No comments: