Los Angeles is usually depicted in fiction as a glitzy place with a dark side. New arrivals are, when not excited about their prospects in the city, at least cautiously hopeful. Stories often tell of their disillusionment. Joseph Foster breaks this mold in A Cow Is Too Much Trouble in Los Angeles. L. A. is depicted as dark all the way through. The main characters don’t want to go there, despise their surroundings once they arrive, and suffer far worse than disillusionment in the city’s grasp.
A Cow Is Too Much Trouble in Los Angeles by Joseph Foster. Duell, Sloan and Pearce (1952), 248 pp.
A flash flood wipes out Honorio's small, barren farm. At the urging of his brother Ambrose, he decides to move from Mexico to Los Angeles. Making the trip is his entire family -- his unwilling wife, Magdalena; his handsome early-twenties son, Jorge; his two teen-age daughters, romantic Constanza and sex-crazed Marucha; and his torpid younger son, Isidro. The family cow, missing after the flood, stays behind. When the group arrives in L. A., no one is impressed. They find the place crowded, dirty, noisy, and filled with soulless gringos. Still, they try to adjust. Honorio and his three older children quickly get jobs. His younger son enrolls in school. But, as they all seem to fear, their troubles are just beginning.
"Laughter -- Passion -- Heartbreak," exclaims the cover of the paperback edition. And that's just the problem: The book suffers from an inconsistent tone. The first pages promise a comedic tale of colorful Mexican bumpkins who ineffectively shout "Caramba!" at each other. A few later episodes are also meant to be amusing, as when Honorio has his cow shipped to L. A. Nothing funny happens to the children, however, who are all somberly facing sexual choices not available back home. None of the characters is well developed; a few adjectives easily define them. So when the story turns grim, the fate of the characters can't generate the emotional response that the author intends. Readers are left with a well-meant but somewhat perfunctory tale of the difficulties of assimilation.