Girl, Cow & Monk is unlike any other book I’ve read. Two dreamlike, meditative, overlapping novellas take the reader both elsewhere and deep inside bodily experience. As I read it, I kept asking “Where am I? Does it matter? Should it matter?” Each time I asked, it encouraged me to pay closer attention to the book, and I would find that I was quite at home within the book, in the flows of connection, memory, perception, and wonder. In the first novella, a girl and a cow enter the sea, traveling together along its edge, communicating obliquely with touch, silence, and their shared continual struggle to survive. Extraordinary, alien tenderness emerges:
“Her skull is so thick and flat. It feels good on my fingers and my palm when I flatten out my hand and run it up between her ears. She has closed her eyes. I take the large cones of her ears into my hand and stroke their length, twirl around the base, before starting back down to the tip. There is the slightest fringe on the edges. I cup the closed sockets of her eyes and brush salt out of the lashes.”
The book’s prose has a crystalline quality, due in large part to the attention Wyer pays to the details of embodiment. Stillness permeates. In the second novella, a monk who has taken a vow of silence hears the world—feels the world through sound—in the way a vow of silence makes uniquely possible: “Silence means the wet hesitation of resistance a potato makes with each pass of the knife. The dry rip of collard greens removed from their stalk. It is hearing a throat swallowing milk. A throat swallowing tea.” The affection the monk finds himself feeling for another monk is not dramatized or sensationalized and is all the more moving for this reason. It’s a series of close observations that suggest the watchful fascination of love: “His light made a candle unnecessary.”
Girl, Cow & Monk is a tale of untameable, sovereign creatures (both human and non-human) in relation to elements and forces and impulses (water, the tides, hunger, music, speech). They are so inseparable from the motions of the universe that they cannot easily join the rhythms of what we would call contemporary human society. They long to live in the sea with their best friend the cow, they join a monastery and take a vow of silence and fall in love with another monk’s inner light, and they leave even the sea and the monastery. Even those places cannot keep them.
Lindsay Lerman is a writer and translator. Her first novel, I’m From Nowhere, is out now with CLASH Books. Entropy named it one of the best books of 2019, and Buzzfeed Books called it “a heartbreaker of a debut.” She is an editor at Black Telephone Magazine. Her first academic translation is forthcoming. She has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.