Holy Cow: Author-Singer-Songwriter-Pig Farmer Perry Strikes Again
Somewhere between farm chores and gigs in small-town Wisconsin with his band The Long Beds, Michael Perry — humorist, radio show host and amateur pig farmer — became a New York Times best-selling author.
That proves the commodities of old-fashioned values, mid-western sensibilities and the art of reading for fun are marketable. And still alive and well in America, thanks in part to Perry’s skillful writing. His newest novel, “The Jesus Cow,” will hit bookstore shelves in mid-May and should repeat the success witnessed by “Population: 485.”
That bestseller was sandwiched between Perry’s new book and “Visiting Tom,” a tale of new and old-generation farmers sticking together while struggling to make a go of it when a freeway lays waste to the pastoral beauty and design of their farming way of life.
“The Jesus Cow,” is a fun, effortless read that lends itself to audible chortles in readers. It’s populated with average folks who could live down the street, be standing in line at the local grocery store or filling their gas tanks next to you at the all-night Kwick Pump. It’s the story of Harley Jackson, a lifelong bachelor, volunteer firefighter and part-time farmer, and the anemic town of Swivel, Wis. The tale begins on Christmas Eve with the birth of a blessed bovine. The calf’s side has a marking that “appeared to be an above-average stencil of the Son of God,’’ Perry writes. Harley is perplexed by his options, so he hides the divine design for all but his closest friend, Billy Tripp, who advises, “Get a lawyer and start printing T-shirts.” Jet-black shoe polish won’t hide the marking, as much as Harley tries.
So the die is cast for some hilarious reading as Harley stumbles his way to fame, riches and beyond. When the calf escapes its pen and is sighted by Dixie, a born-again mail carrier, the wheels are set in motion that neither Harley, nor heaven above, can control. Enter the big-business of religious hucksterism, wholesale marketing mania and the mecca that little Swivel becomes. Throw in an evil, greedy, money grubbing developer, a wacky but well-meaning environmentalist and a love interest for Harley, and you have a complete package.
This story can be deep and philosophical or light and breezy, depending on what readers want. It’s a fun story and — though Perry would probably bristle at the notion — sheds light on some timely, big-picture issues facing America and small towns across the heartland. Some of the best lines come from Harley’s friend Billy, who points out that miracles and religious icons can be big business — for instance the woman who spotted the savior’s image on toast and sold it on eBay.
“Go hog wild on this holy calf business … don’t stop with T-shirts, charge admission to see him, sell the mother’s milk, sell patches of his hair, posters, can coolers – everything you can,” Billy says. “You got the Son a God there, bud, with a cowlick.” That’s what happens — with the predictable disastrous results. The story that begins on Christmas Eve ends on the Fourth of July, complete with fireworks.
Billy’s best pronouncement, in my book, comes when Harley asks him what’s the real secret to happiness.
Now that’s a message America can use these days.
By Joel Barrett