I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book. The entire book takes place over maybe a day, and it’s a snippet of the life of a boy in a broken home. I tend to go into books blind – sometimes it helps me judge the book for what it is. Not always, but there’s plenty of times where I dive straight into a book, and that’s what I did here. Knowing nothing about it, the title “Calves in the Mud Room” sounded a lot sillier than the book is.
The overall plot is pretty simple. Wade has been asked to go with her to a dance by Glory, a cheerleader. On the day of the dance the cows on his farm start giving birth, and because his mother and step-dad are extremely unreliable people in his life, he has to take care of the cows himself. He ends up going to the dance late and Glory is mad at him. He deals with a variety of issues, from cows’ and calves’ lives depending on him, an abusive stepfather, his peers shunning him and having to take care of his little siblings.
I wasn’t as captivated by the book as some other reviewers seem to have been. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. There’s a lot of talk about the prose, but it wasn’t really for me. It works fine at some parts, but there were a lot of lists that I thought were unnecessary.
The back of the old truck hauls scattered stems of straw and alfalfa leaves, a scoop shovel (no handle), a pitchfork, a dented spray can of DW40, a rusty set of tire chains, a flattened box of windshield wipers, one battery cable (black), an empty red gas can (no cap), a wad of bent-up barb wire, miles of orange twine, a spool of electric fence wire, rubber irrigation boots, a run-over straw hat, an empty tub of horse vitamins, and one old fallen-down cowboy boot with the spur still riding the heel (left foot).
Wade collects a bent screwdriver, an ice scraper, a heavy-duty metal cutter (you could cut a car open with this puppy), a socket set still in the red plastic holder, two Crescent wrenches (one about four inches long, the other about two feet), a hoof scraper, a flashlight (still works), an unopened can of Udder Balm, and one frozen flat glove (right hand, hole in thumb).
On the dash sits opened and unopened mail, bills and statements, a flier for a used hayin’ package (cutter, baler and rake) marked down from 25 grand to 17; a cigar box full of paper clips, rubber bands, pens, pencils, two black sharpies and four silver dollars (minted in 1896); a box of horseshoe nails, a red Conoco Hottest Brand Going to-go cup, an empty staple gun, a pocket calendar from Barlow’s Feed with appointments and the day’s temperatures, and the calving log book for the last few years (#9919 eats rocks).
He removes the garbage, recycling, dog food, bottles of bleach, detergent, household sprays, cleaners, rat poison, boots, shoes, jackets, gloves and hats. Anything the calf might get into.
There’s broken glass, pizza crust and French fries under the coffee table. On top are Burger King bags, a greasy pizza box, half-eaten slices, specks of mushroom, chunks of cheeseburger, decapitated Bud Light longnecks, a passed out bottle of Cuervo Gold and a smashed fifth of Black Jack.
This sort of listing sneaks into some of the dialogue, too.
Medium lapels, three button, single vent, silk interlining, sharp, clean lines at the shoulder, fitted under the arms, tapered at the waist with a slight flair.
Yeah, she’s going to make some wannabe mid-level-executive-master-of-the-universe dude a real good trophy wife. Get her own McMansion out there on Dry Lake, Lexus SUV hybrid, Nordstrom card, Costco membership, jet ski in July, downhill in January, a little tennis on Tuesdays, a little golf on Thursdays, a nanny, her skinny double pump vanilla latte no whip, couple of brats on Ratlin, drag her droopy boobs and sorry cookie dough baby butt to Curves for some cardio, maybe some yoga without the meditating-touchy-feely-tofu parts.
At times the dialogue was strange to me, and sometimes things were unclear. He flashes back to a discussion with his grandfather when he puts on his suit. They talked about suit his grandfather gave him and the grandfather’s time in New York after coming back from Korea, then suddenly it’s back in the present without much indicator. You might assume that a switch from past and present tense would be the indicator, but like many books that use present tense it often shifts, so in the middle of a flashback it says:
He’s too young to be familiar with…
If I were to describe the prose, for me it was reminiscent of old 1990’s roleplays on telnet. (I know, this is a pretty specific example). Way back when, people would use telnet to roleplay in text over the internet. These places were called MU*’s (MUCK, MUD, MUSH, MUSE…) People could create a character and set things like text descriptions for them, and when you ‘looked’ at another character you would get their description. The current closest thing to this would probably be something like character descriptions in WoW, but I’m less familiar with that.
Anyway, when people wrote these descriptions they would always try to make them as fancy as possible. You wouldn’t have “black hair”, you’d have a “waterfall of ebony strands”. Never blue eyes. Always “sapphire orbs shimmering in the moonlight”. It was purple prose at its finest. When I started this book that was the first thing I thought of. We start off with “juicy fruit lips,” “dark chocolate eyes,” “honey-streaked corn silk hair,” etc. Now, every sentence wasn’t like that, but it was enough that I was occasionally lost when an excessive description was used for something simple. In the very first sentence I was confused because I didn’t know where the character was and after a lengthy description of a girl it was telling me his headlights were falling on “rump roast, rib eyes, t-bones, tenderloins, flank strips, hot dogs and moo-burger…” (there’s those lists again). I thought he might have been related to a butcher or something and was literally looking at hanging meat.
To me, for a joke “rump roast” would have been plenty. It would have been short and simple. It spent so time telling me all kinds of meat that I thought he was looking at meat before it told me it was a full cow. Here’s part of the original (the first line is too long, I’m not going to copy it all):
Visions of Glory Schoonover […] vanish the instant the truck lights sweep through the pin streaks of snow and gunmetal fog and land on the smoky blobs of rump roast, rib eyes, t-bones, tenderloins, flank strips, hot dogs and moo-burger piling up at the gate and blocking Wade Summers’ way.
Stupid cows. Stand in cow shit all day cows.
I think it’s too lengthy. I’d prefer to see:
Visions of Glory Schoonover […] vanish the instant the truck lights sweep through the snow and land on the rump roasts blocking Wade Summers’ way.
Stupid cows. Stand in cow shit all day cows.
You get to the point quicker without getting too convoluted. Cows are blocking his way.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the story at first. It seemed depressing to me, and I’m not usually one who goes for depressing. Reading some other reviews though, I did see someone else’ take on it that I liked, about how one good person (his grandfather) can make a big difference in someone’s life.
Every single other person seemed to be horrible, including Wade at times. Maybe it’s just me, but the women seemed especially awful. I’m not even talking about Glory and the fact that she and her friends were upset at him for being late for their date. That, I get. Mostly. It seemed a little odd to me that she would ask if something like “giving birth” could wait. Maggie was ready to ditch her own date for him. Rochelle had sex with him and then seemed suddenly mad at him the next day (she was most confusing because nothing had happened between them in the lapse of time). Even grown women are saying things like:
“Hon,” she says in a low voice, “with a big pony like Rose Stuffle, just use a fold of blubber instead of her vagina. She won’t mind and you won’t know the difference.”
That’s not even getting into his mom being a drunkard and selling off things he was supposed to inherit from his grandpa behind his back. There’s a constant feeling of anger coming from 90% of the characters and sometimes it’s unclear why. Maybe that’s why I just couldn’t get into it.
I wouldn’t say that this was a bad book, but it wasn’t for me. As a warning for some people who might be sensitive to this, not all of the calves survive.
I’d give it a 6/10.