Black Cow by Magdalena Ball discovers the ‘real life’.

Review by Carolyn Martinez, Hawkeye Books

Front Cover of Black Cow by Magdalena Ball.

Black Cow by Magdalena Ball – herself a book critic and the driving force behind popular book review site compulsivereader.com – is a well-written, angst-filled, literary novel that follows the lives of Real Estate Agent Freya Archer, her CEO husband James, and their teenaged, private-schooled kids.

Is having it all enough?

They have it all; dual career success, luxury Sydney home, expensive cars, $3,500 shopping sprees on gadgets and household items, beautiful clothes, beautiful hair.

In this age of miniscule yards, relentless scheduled activities, accumulation of material objects, iphones, ipads, ipods, and laptops connecting us 24/7 it’s fashionable to have a stance on global warming, recycling, over-population, green energy, being kinder to the planet; but who actually does more than talk the talk? The Archers do.

Are you living your dream?

Have you ever yearned your fun-loving, hope-inspired, dream-filled, pre-responsibility, light-filled soul? That wondrous teenager who dreamt of making their mark in the world? In Black Cow you’ll get a glimpse of that teen.

Most accept that responsibility, bills and mortgages are part of growing up and we knuckle under and do what we have to do to get by. Rats on a ferris wheel.

I don’t often experience jealousy. I’m simply not built that way. I usually celebrate others’ success, and if I do see something I want for myself, I get to know the person. Find out how they did it. Model their path. I’m an achiever.

When we feel we’re not enough

I distinctly recall sitting in my car a few years ago at a red signal at a set of traffic lights in Newcastle NSW Australia in a funky café/bar precinct not far from the beach. A group of 20-somethings waited for the walk signal. Their skin glowed, some were barefoot, some wore thongs, they laughed, and their eyes shone. It was the shining eyes that made me jealous. They were exuberant, hopeful, innocent … joyous.

Me in my car – 42, successful, and weighted with a heavy soul from grief and responsibility … I was definitely jealous that day; jealous of their shining eyes, their freshness. Freya’s journey in Black Cow resonates.

Author Magdalena Ball is foremost a poet. She has 10 books of poetry and 2 fiction novels in her portfolio. Here’s a sample from Black Cow to showcase the realism that Ball favours.

‘Everyone around Freya was tripping off somewhere better and leaving her with the burden of the present. Leaning over, Freya gave her mother one more hug, massaging her back gently, and then left her there, shaking and dribbling in her soft chair. She heard the television go on as she left the room. Freya bit her lower lip, while she held her head up just a little higher, gulping back a feeling she struggled to name: loss, loneliness, fear mingling together into one unpleasant lump that got stuck in her throat as she closed the door of the nursing home behind her.’

The cost of relentless pursuits

As in capital cities all over, The Archers hit the gym/pool, go to work, grab take-out because they don’t have time to cook, let alone grocery shop, pay bills, attend work functions, kids’ school functions, worry about their kids but seem unable to connect. Weekends come and they socialise at events scheduled weeks beforehand. Wages grow, possessions accrue, houses get bigger, cars newer and faster, shoes become more expensive, and hair gets immaculately styled.

In Black Cow we experience with the Archer family how the fast-paced life of success can chip away at connectedness and joy. They’ve reached success, but at what cost?

At his 40th birthday party, James has a medical episode. He looks around, searching for someone he trusts – a real friend, but he’s swamped by a sea of colleagues.

Now the ‘real’ story begins…

In my favourite part of the book, the Archer’s sell-off and pack-up and relocate to the beautiful country landscape of Tasmania. The move has its challenges. I loved this part so much I would have liked more.

Magdalena Ball and her characters – the Archer family – show us that even when others covet what you have, it doesn’t mean joy follows.

They also show us that it is possible to drastically change our course. 

I recommend Black Cow to anyone who’s examining what this thing called ‘life’ is all about. 

What makes your heart sing?

A lovely book, by a gifted poet and author.

You can find ‘Black Cow’ by Magdalena Ball here.

To contact the author Magdalena Ball, visit her website.

Magdalena Ball’s second novel is Sleep Before Evening. More here.

If you’d like to read more about what it means to be alive and discovering life’s truest riches, you might also enjoy ‘Uriel’s Gift’ by Edward Spellman.

Front cover of Uriel's Gift by Edward Spellman.

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