Wednesday, January 5, 2011

COWS, reviewed by James Greer

Akashic Books asked several of our authors to read
and review one another's work. James Greer,

author of
The Failure and Artificial Light,
was the first to respond, with this review of

Matthew Stokoe’s Cows is a roller-coaster ride through the dark heart of the American dream… A cataract of filth gushes forth from every page of Matthew Stokoe’s brilliant novel, Cows…. Matthew Stokoe's grim atmospherics and affectless narrative call to mind Iain Banks' 1980s Goth classic The Wasp Factory… Stokoe's novel is a militant vegan manifesto… a prescient look into our own future as carnivores…

None of these things are true. Or rather, all of them are true. They're just stupid. I found Stokoe's book (Cows) hilarious, and deftly written, and moving, and yes, from time to time, I guess shocking. But I'd be very surprised to learn that Stokoe's purpose in writing Cows was to shock or provoke. Pry as I might, I could not find under the floorboards of this slender novel a didactic intent, for which I am thankful. I did find an unusually well-tuned ear for language, and a sure-handed sense of the lengths to which language can be pushed in the service of a singular vision. I found, in sum, a writer. A very good one. While any particular detail in Cows may seem offensive or shocking (and I should probably mention that those readers who are easily upset should STAY THE FUCK AWAY from this book because otherwise you will be puking all over your lace doilies), the cumulative effect of these details is neither cathartic nor stunning nor disgusting nor any of many words that I could easily call to mind to describe this novel. The cumulative effect, for me, at least, is recognition. I recognize Matthew Stokoe's writing: as inevitable; as necessary; as vital as blood.

By portraying cruelty in such loving detail that the reader (you, me, and that kid in the tree) cannot help but admire his style, even if you recoil from his content, Matthew Stokoe has performed a magic trick known in the novelist's trade as "writing."

That trick never gets old.

--James Greer

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