Animal Husbandry

Animal Husbandry

4.5 10
by Laura Zigman

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New cow...

Ray makes the move. Jane feels the rush. Ray says the L-word. Jane breaks her lease. Then suddenly, inexplicably, he dumps her. Just. Like. That.

...old cow.

Now black is the only color in Jane's closet and Kleenex is clinging to her nose. Why did it happen? How could it have happened?


Jane isSee more details below


New cow...

Ray makes the move. Jane feels the rush. Ray says the L-word. Jane breaks her lease. Then suddenly, inexplicably, he dumps her. Just. Like. That.

...old cow.

Now black is the only color in Jane's closet and Kleenex is clinging to her nose. Why did it happen? How could it have happened?


Jane is going to get an answer. Not from Ray. Not from her best friends, David and Joan. But from an astounding new discovery of her own: The Old-Cow-New-Cow theory.

Forced to move into the apartment of a womanizing alpha male named Eddie, Jane is seeing the world of men and women in a brilliant new light. And when she takes her Old-Cow-New-Cow theory public, it will change her career and her whole life. Unless, of course, she's got it all wrong....

Editorial Reviews

BUST Magazine
Zigman's first novel is the tale of one very, very bitter woman, told with honesty, self-deprecation, and more than a few opportunities to underline passages.
Library Journal
Jane Goodall (not the Jane Goodall) has been duped by colleague Ray at the TV station where they both work. He claimed his fiancee didn't understand him, and Jane did. She falls madly in love with him, and whamo! He drops her like a hot potato. Enter the "Old Cow/New Cow theory" developed by Jane after lengthy research into the mating habits in the animal kingdom: once a bull has mated with a cow, he loses interest in her. Sound familiar? -- Kristin M. Jacobi, Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic
It's clever, it's true-to-life...anything that can make you laugh about heartbreak should go on the life-sentence syllabus.
People Magazine
Girl meets boy, boy dumps girl....Laura Zigman siphons off the tears and the curses and by alchemy converts them into laughter.
Time Magazine
Fresh and hilarious.
Washington Post
This clever, engaging first novel proceeds from its narrator's hypothesis that human beings of the masculine persuasion operate on bovine principles.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Great fun, a dog-eared hoot.
A hilarious inquiry into human mating habits.
Sally Eckhoff
When people say that love makes all things new again, they never talk about peeling. Peeling is that inexorable process that starts when all your romantic engines are humming, all signs are pointing straight ahead. That's when he -- it's always a he -- starts to unstick himself. Before you know it, he's peeling himself away from you as if he were a Random Acts of Kindness bumper sticker and you were some mobster's Lincoln. Your skin has a raw patch from where he used to be. He'll never tell you why.

That's what happens to Jane Goodall in Laura Zigman's first novel, Animal Husbandry, and Jane actually does something about it. She is not the famous Jane Goodall of primatology, but a TV producer whose passionate boyfriend proclaims every kind of believable love for her only to wake up one morning looking at her as if she were some kind of wart. After caving in to the common temptation to cry a lot and guzzle Jack Daniel's from the bottle, Jane hits the library to discover the cause of male amatory weirdness. Newly armed with such works as Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, she retires to her cramped bedroom, now dubbed the Institute for the Study and Prevention of Male Behavior, and proceeds to ferret out why bulls need variety and what the desire to replicate one's DNA has to do with her empty apartment and her broken heart.

First she must digest Old Cow/New Cow Theory and accept that however much her guy may have wanted her before, all men really want is a New Cow. Then, with more research, she has to deal with more troubling information: the least common denominators of human behavior (Darwin), the power of self-deception (Nietzsche) and the self-evidently sloppy evolution of desire. Hot on the trail of discovery, our heroine is as keen as an Eagle Scout, as she was the day she discovered the humiliating Coolidge Effect, which explains the male's need for variety. "I stared at the article," she reports. "My heart pounded. My breath became shallow. I started to sweat." Three percent of mammals pair-bond, she discovers. How can we go on?

Jane finds out something she never bargained for, which is that she has to dig impossibly deep, deeper than the biological origins of attraction, to find the roots of her own determination, and of that teasing human predisposition to not just love but to be known. This lighthearted treatment of her journey leaves you with a vague feeling of sadness -- the aftermath of the truest kind of comedy known to man and beast. --Salon Jan. 5, 1998

From the Publisher
"Girl meets boy, boy dumps girl ... Zigman siphons off the tears and the curses and by alchemy converts them into laughter."

"Clever, engaging...continually amusing."
The Washington Post

"Wit, wisdom, and a sure comic voice...this is great fun,a dog-eared hoot."
The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

"I should just marry this one.  She's definitely a wife," Eddie said matter-of-factly, glass of Scotch in hand.  He paced back and forth across the living-room floor in front of me the way he always did when he was contemplating the acquisition--or disposal--of a wife:

Step step step turn.

Step step step turn.

Step step step turn.

Not looking up from my copy of The Social Life of Monkeys and Apes (Zuckerman, second edition), I feigned indifference.  This was not the first time that Eddie had come home from a party and announced that he had met his wife, only to announce two weeks later, without a trace of irony, that he had met another.  I'd recorded it all in his notebook:

Case wives: #1-23.

Ages: 22-34.

Preliminary diagnosis of Subject E: satyriasis.

But despite the way of all his previous case wives' flesh and the fact that the chapter on baboons I was reading was a real page-turner, the familiar twinge of curiosity overtook me and I remembered the new purpose of my living arrangement with Eddie:


Inserting a bookmark in mid-chapter, I approached the cage and threw Eddie a banana:

"So . .  ." I said leadingly.

But Eddie didn't seem to hear me, lost as he was in the stream-of-consciousness comparative-shopping thought processes I now knew by heart:

Step step step great body nice legs good breeding turn.
Step step step but she's a blond ectomorph and I prefer brunette mesomorphs turn.
Step step step she's smart but not smart enough which could be a problem since she has to be smart enough to "get" me which could be difficult as I'm very complex turn.
Step step step what did I do with my cigarettes?  Stop.

He frisked himself, and finding a near-empty soft pack of Camel Ultra Lights in the torn breast pocket of his oxford cloth shirt, he shook out a wrinkled cigarette and lit it, then continued his slow, pensive three-step.

Now, where was I?  Oh, yes, the question of hair color and whether or not she'll be able to keep up with me intellectually.

I shifted uneasily on the couch. This excessive pacing and interior monologue was a radical departure from Eddie's usual post-cocktail-party, prenuptial ebullience.  If I was going to make the most of his willing--if unwitting--participation in my research, I realized I was going to have to extract the reasons out of him.  And while my objective, echoing method of questioning ("It sounds like you're angry that she's an ectomorph.") usually achieved maximum results, this time, because memories of Ray and the wanton polygamy of the male stump-tailed macaque I had just read about had made me mad, I said:

"So are you old enough to be her father, or is she at least out of college this time?"

Raising an eyebrow, Eddie acknowledged my reference to his weakness for nubile wives, a weakness that had inspired me, some months back, when I still thought it--and everything else about Eddie's womanizing--was hilarious, to refer to him "affectionately" as Humbert Humbert.  But Eddie's finding a wife was serious business these days, and so neither of us was laughing.

"Okay, I'm sorry," I lied.  "What's she like?"

Inhaling and exhaling, sipping and pacing, Eddie, as always, considered the question carefully.  Hypervigilant in his efforts to capture the true essence of each new wife with precision and accuracy, and in as few words as possible, he said finally, in a tone that implied he had given the question a great deal more than ten seconds of thought:

"She's perfect."

"Perfect," I echoed.

"Well, almost perfect," Eddie clarified.

"Almost perfect," I echoed again.  I was stalling for time.  Almost perfect was not in the notebook.

"Six inches shy of perfect, to be exact.  You see," he said by way of explanation, "she's only five foot one."

The first serious wife contender to come along while I lived with Eddie was the wife he met in early February.

It was a Friday night when he came home and announced his news, parading in front of me in his lucky suit, more than slightly drunk.

"Speak," I slurred. I, of course, had been sitting on the what-will-become-of-me couch all night, sipping Jack Daniel's daintily from an oversized coffee mug.

He told me that he'd seen his wife at a cocktail party, that she was a cellist, and that she was very beautiful and very rich.  In fact, she was so beautiful and so rich, he said, that he'd found out he would have to get her permission to call her.

"Permission to call her?" I slurred again.

"She's had some unfortunate luck with men," Eddie purred, lighting a Camel and continuing to pace back and forth in front of me.  "Luck that I plan to change."

"Good thing you were wearing your lucky suit."

Eddie stared at me.  Obviously, at a time like this--post-hunt, prepursuit--he was not in the mood for humor. "So, what," I said, "you'll call her to ask her if you can call her?"

"No.  My friends who had the party will call her.  Then they'll tell me if I can proceed."

"Permission? How come we don't require permission to be called?" Joan asked when I called her later that night.  But before I had a chance to answer, Eddie hit my curtain a few times. He needed the phone.

An hour or so later he poked his hand through the curtain.

Opposable thumbs up.

Their first date would be one week thence, Eddie briefed me, the following Saturday night.  All weekend long he paced back and forth across the apartment, planning and refining his strategy for the date.

I watched him from my bed through the slit between the curtain and the wall and made notes:

Subject E's attempts to pursue "wife" have produced specific feelings of anxiety; convinced that a "perfect plan" for first formal encounter must be executed to produce desired effect in wife object.

Subject E grappling intensely with details of said plan (i. e.  activity, feeding venue, etc. ), as well as with issues of manipulation of wife object's feelings
vis-Ó-vis her perception of his plan of action.

Subject E displaying "deep thought" behavior patterns but has not verbally communicated to on-site observer.

Finally, on Sunday night, he filled me in on the details of his plan: because Catherine had lived her whole life in a rarefied environment and undoubtedly missed out on her childhood, he would take her to the circus and then to dinner someplace "common."

Such plotting.

Such planning.

Such psychological deconstruction and silent deliberation.

Bulls become eerily focused when they're formulating their plan of attack.

Eddie's date went off without a hitch.

Catherine loved the circus, and she loved the Greek diner he carefully picked out.  The following week he took her ice-skating in Central Park and to Rumpelmayer's afterward for hot chocolate and grilled cheese sandwiches.  It seemed his lost-childhood-theme-park strategy was working perfectly.

"Let's celebrate downstairs," he said to me when he'd returned from the date, his Hans Brinker cheeks aglow.

It was only three in the afternoon, and I had never been to Night Owls in daylight.  We sat down at the bar, and before we had even taken our coats off, our drinks arrived.

I looked at Eddie.  "What did you do?  Call ahead?"

Eddie took a sip of his Scotch before launching into his update.  "I thought you'd be interested to know that we haven't slept together yet."

No burying the lead this time.

I stopped in mid-sip.  "But you've been seeing her for two weeks.  Standard operating procedure for you is normally two hours."

"I know.  But this is different.  It's special," he said, his voice revoltingly full of reverence.


"You see," he explained, "sometimes, when a man meets someone special--a wife," he clarified, "it's better to wait.  To take things slow." He went on.  "You don't want to sleep with a wife on the first date."

I nodded for a few seconds, processing.  "But I thought that's what men wanted--to sleep with a woman as soon as possible so that they could fall in love as soon as possible."

Eddie shook his head dismissively.  Clearly, I wasn't getting it.

"So you didn't sleep with Rebecca on the first date?" I asked.

He looked past me to the windows that faced the street.  "No," he said.  "Though she would have."

I looked out at the street too.  The air was thick and gray, the way it gets before it snows.  "I slept with Ray on the first date," I said, almost to myself.  "Maybe that's why it didn't work."

Eddie turned and looked me in the eyes.  "No, Jane.  It didn't work because Ray's an idiot."

I stared at him.  In all the months I'd lived with him he'd never offered an opinion of Ray.  His words surprised me.  "You think?"

"He doesn't know what he wants yet.  He's too young."

Too young. Ray was thirty.  And Eddie was thirty-five.  That didn't seem too young to me to know whether or not you love someone, and what to do about it if you did.

"You need someone older," he continued.  "Someone more mature.  Someone who can keep up with you."

"Keep up with me?" I said.  "I'm a fucking mess." I saw my current life flare up in front of me like a lit match and laughed--the hole in my wall, the curtain, the ten-by-fifteen-foot bedroom cell, the notebooks.  My life felt suspended in a way it never had: stalled, impermanent, surreal.

"No, you're not.  You just fell in love with someone who wasn't ready for it."

I exhaled slowly and closed my eyes, hoping to see in that blackness the glimmer of the future husband that Eddie was describing.  But that place was empty, and I didn't want to stay there.  I opened my eyes and tried to refocus on the present.

"So what are you going to do about Catherine?"

"We're going to spend the weekend at the Plaza," he said, standing up and leaving a ten-dollar bill on the bar.

I put my cigarette out and slid off the bar stool. "Bring me back a shower cap, okay?"

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