The Twisted Library — April 7, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Dirty Chick: Life with Animals



When I first sat down to listen to Antonia Murphy’s audio book, I had a certain expectation in mind. For one thing, the title is “Dirty Chick” so my thoughts were immediately painted with images of young girls partying in the city, barely clothed, leaning up against one another with heavy eyelids and smeared lipstick. I was undoubtedly intrigued, but also a little apprehensive. I’m not sure if I am in a place in my life where I really care all that much about the antics of “dirty chicks,” though I was sure it would be entertaining.

Well, I don’t think it was possible for me to be more incorrect in my assumptions about this book. After my first glance of the cover illustration, a tiny baby chicken, I started to rethink my preconceived notions. Then, upon hearing the author’s note, I knew this book was certainly NOT about young girls partying anywhere.

Murphy begins by saying the following story is a work of nonfiction, though time-compressed and paraphrased from memory. She then states, “…but all the disgusting animal stories actually happened.” I wasn’t sure if I was about to read something along the lines of “Fast Food Nation” or more of a memoir, but I don’t normally read books having to do with animals (save for Stephen King’s Cujo) so I was looking forward to a little change of pace.

From that point on, Antonia Murphy weaves a detailed story of her life and the impact that animals have had on it. She elegantly combines factual depiction with dry, dark humor. Her prologue begins with a true tale of the time she watched her goat eat a placenta. Oh, yes. Murphy didn’t spare a single detail, sort of a foreshadow of the rest of the book. Her nauseating description is extensive, but the vocabulary is so eloquent that the listener almost gets the impression that the story being told is that of something beautiful and magical. She continues to relive situations this way throughout the rest of the book, bluntly and articulately. Never once did I doubt that she truly loves animals, along with her family, very deeply and uniquely.

Murphy admits, growing up, her parents treated their animals a little differently- they were actual pets, instead of providers of meals. Raised in San Francisco, she was never much of a farm girl, though an interesting experience with a chicken led her to get a heavy dose of animal anatomy information. Her life changes substantially when she moves to New Zealand with her husband and children. Her son was born with a rare genetic disease, making a slower-paced environment ideal. This is when her adventure as a “lifestyle farmer” begins. (She proclaims that a “lifestyle farmer” is a “fake farmer” who has other jobs and raises chickens while “real farmers” dedicate their life to the job and raise cows.)

And what an adventure it was! Soon she’s dealing with everything from horrifying goat sex to beak rot and leprosy. Coupled with that is her recurring scares regarding her son’s health, her experiences with her overly-energetic daughter, and the general task of getting involved in the community and making friends with her neighbors. The mixture makes for a compelling, entertaining, and occasionally heartwarming literary journey.

I particularly loved her raw and unapologetic comedic side. She refers to her disabled son as an “alien” and when her daughter asks about why their alpacas were behaving aggressively she responds, “Well, I think they want to eat our brains.” She can seem harsh, but she’s genuine and her quips never come across as mean-spirited, though slightly surprising. I would laugh out loud at some of her sentiments, then immediately wonder if I should be laughing at all. I don’t know about anyone else, but that is exactly the type of humor I enjoy.

Though this was a book I normally would not have read due to the fact that I’m anything but an animal person, I couldn’t be happier that I was able to listen to the audio version of it. The story is exciting, informative, and touching, simultaneously making me shudder, smile, and laugh. Antonia Murphy’s animated and enthusiastic voice does wonders for her tale and I hardly noticed hours slipping away as I listened.

Twisted Talk: What’s the last audio book you listened to? Have you read Dirty Chick? Discuss below!

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