Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 02 April 2010 00:00
When Massapequa native Sean Kenniff, during the recession of 2008-2009, lost his job as a health reporter for CBS News, he went to live with cows.
Not in the exact sense of course. Instead, Kenniff who drove along a cow pasture every day on his way to work in South Florida now looked at that plot of land and its inhabitants in a different light.
“I stopped and looked into their sad cow faces, and that’s when I realized we shared a common story,” Kenniff said. “I went to live with cows. I studied them, I communed with them.”
The result of all this is a novella, Etre The Cow, about a French bull at fictional Gorwell Farm.
A theme of the book is, as Kenniff puts it, a “complete lack of power.” Etre, in fact, narrates the story, telling of his life on Gorwell Farm. Fenced in on the farm and feeling humiliated by “his hoofed legs, the flies on his haunches and the grass in his mouth,” Etre also searches for understanding among the broads, bulls, and calves on the pasture. He also enjoys the lullabies sung by a farmer boy, Jacques. However, the bull cracks up when he witnesses the ongoing carnage inside a slaughterhouse. Etre ends up killing Jacques in order, as the author contends, to stop the processing of his fellow cows.
“He [Etre] has many revelations about his life and about the world,” Kenniff said. “So Etre’s naiveté dies. So by killing the boy, Etre is actually killing his own naiveté.”
Kenniff believes his story is metaphorical. “Etre is utterly powerless,” he notes. “Depicting this powerlessness is the social critique. In Etre’s world, out the impotence is so thick it binds. With millions of lost jobs, lost homes and lost savings, haven’t many ordinary people lost a substantial amount of power over their very own existence? We are all fenced in and powerless to some extend.”
And yet, Kenniff believes the novella will also inspire readers to rise above their own predicaments.
“The book has meant different things to different people, so I think the discoveries will be individualized,” Kenniff speculated. “I do hope the central message of Etre The Cow will resonate with most readers. We are all cows in a sense. We are all defined by the fences that surround us, and the pastures we graze on. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can break down your fences and seek greener pastures. You can challenge fate. You can change your destiny. Push your limits and define your own life.”
Kenniff said writing the novella didn’t make him a vegetarian, even though he prefers to eat chicken and fish for both health and “moral reasons” and that it is becoming “increasingly difficult” for him to now eat beef.
Kenniff also said that he studied cows and watched how they interacted with each people, but only from a safe distance, since cows can be violent without provocation.
From his research, Kenniff came to admire cows, mainly for their intelligence and rational behavior. “There have been many instances where cows have escaped imminent slaughter or attempted to escape it,” he noted. But mostly, cows, Kenniff said, are “aware of their indignity. I suspect some cows realize they are fenced in, powerless, and occupying one of the lowest links of the food chain. You can see it in their eyes.”
Writing fiction is one of only the many occupations Sean Kenniff has pursued in his variegated career. A graduate of both Massapequa High School and SUNY-Binghamton, Kenniff, now a resident of South Florida, has been a neurologist, a radio host, and a television journalist who appeared as one of the original castaways in the hit CBS television reality series, Survivor. From Survivor, he graduated to network television journalism. Kenniff currently hosts the popular radio program, the Dr. Sean Show in South Florida.