Hoyt’s debut novel uses touches of magical realism to describe a bull’s adventures.
Okie the bull is only a few minutes old when he has his first adventure, a run-in with a lion, which, sadly, was someone’s discarded exotic pet. Similarly, many of Okie’s experiences serve to highlight different forms of animal abuse or show the resilient character of the young bull. A rattlesnake friend is harvested illegally by a character known as Rattlesnake Anderson. Sometime later, it’s Okie and his best friend Harold, another calf, who are rounded up by Anderson. They become part of a rodeo in which the animals suffer numerous abuses. But when he sees Harold killed and discarded, it’s too much for Okie; he escapes the arena and finds himself in New York City. He swims to New Jersey and winds up going on a cross-country adventure; he meets both friends and foes on his journey back to Oklahoma, including one final run-in with the dastardly Anderson. It’s not immediately apparent who the intended audience is. While the language tends to suggest an adult audience, the length, subject matter and occasionally didactic style feel more appropriate for younger readers, though references like “Bill Clinton could not have slicked in better” will go over kids’ heads. Okie finds himself in many dangerous situations, but the distant tone of the narrator and a heavy use of the passive voice tend to downplay the seriousness of the encounters. Occasional meta moments can be distracting; at a pivotal point in the tale, the narrator asks, “Are you an Okie? Will you seize the ‘Okie Moment’ if you have a chance?” Though the animals are presented as sentient, they do not speak as humans. In this way, the book maintains a realistic tone even as touches of magic help to guide Okie on his journey.
While the execution often stumbles, this tale of a remarkable bull raises important ideas about animal abuse and cruelty.