July 29th, 2014

Review: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Going Bovine
by Libba Bray

Cameron Smith’s just another high school stoner slacker, heading nowhere in no hurry, when he starts hallucinating in class. Although initially suspected to be marijuana-induced, Cameron’s soon diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob variant BSE (mad cow disease) and told there is little hope for recovery. As he waits in the hospital, an angel named Dulcie appears to him and tells Cameron that if he can find the time-traveling physicist Dr. X, he can be cured. Determined to live, Cameron sneaks out of the hospital with his classmate Gonzo and begins an epic road trip through the American South. On the road, he picks up a third traveling companion: the Norse god Balder, trapped in the body of a lawn gnome thanks to the intervention of Loki.

Man, this book is just weird. There’s a lot going on as layers of reality intersect, leaving the reader uncertain about what’s real. Is Cameron really on the road, following the directions of an angel only he can see, or is this all a massive hallucination from his hospital bed? If it’s a hallucination, does that make the adventure any less of a “real life” for Cameron?

Not that I care, really. Cameron is really, truly annoying. In some ways, he’s that ultimate hipster, so desperate to be ironic and cynical that he doesn’t take joy in anything. But a hipster is at least interested in cultivating an image; Cameron lacks the ambition or drive to achieve even this, so he’s just another lazy pothead. Sure, shit happens to him, and suddenly he’s trying to cope with this horrible disease. I should feel sorry for him. But all Cameron does is whine and complain.

There’s a lot of pop culture and pseudo-pop culture thrown in here. Cameron’s memories constantly return to a family vacation in Disney World, where he nearly drowned after jumping out of a boat on the It’s A Small World ride. He talks about the park throughout the story, and Dulcie gives him a bracelet modeled on the old-fashioned ticket system the theme park once used. He also obsesses over the conflict between the Coyote and the Roadrunner in those old Bugs Bunny cartoons, constantly imagining himself in a similar situation. But that seems relatively minor compared to the fictional celebrities (modeled on late 90s MTV programming, I think) and the Copenhagen Interpretation, a band that combines the weirdness of Bjork with the mad popularity of Beatlemania. It’s a send-up of our own pop culture, our obsession with youth culture and latching on to that fifteen minutes of fame, no matter the cost to our dignity, but…it just isn’t that funny, or interesting, or even scathingly biting.

And the plot just rambles on and on. It’s a road trip that never ends. En route to their ultimate destination of Disney World, Cameron and Gonzo meet up with a legendary New Orleans musician, stumble into the clutches of a cult, buy a used car, find a Norse god, pick up hitchhikers and live out the spring break beach party fantasy. In between adventures, Cameron flashes back to the hospital where he’s still in bed, getting injected with shots or overhearing people talking about his condition. Some people might like the hallucinatory quality of the narrative, but to me it just felt like reading a hot mess filled with teenagers engaging in sex, drugs, and whining angst.

2 out of 5 stars

To read more about Going Bovine, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: Loki’s Wolves (The Blackwell Pages #1) by K. L. Armstrong and M. A. Marr
2012: News: London Olympics & Children’s Authors
2011: Christopher Moore and Ian Corson at Books Inc for “The Griff”
2010: Video: Old Spice Guy & Libraries
2009: Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
2008: Stealing Athena by Karen Essex