Bad Monkeys – Review

Jonathan Ames, in his review of “Bad Monkeys for the NYT, called it a science-fiction “Catcher in the Rye” before later smashing together scifi/mystery/thriller in attempting to give Matt Ruff’s “Bad Monkeys” some sort of shorthanded framework for a reader to fit it into. The review then collapsed into some weird diatribe against the author having some acknowledgements at the end, rather than at the front, of the novel and may or may not have admitted to having some sort of Burroughs inspired coital moment with the book itself.

And I can’t really blame Ames for just sort of drifting from one tangent to another when reviewing “Bad Monkeys.” Standing in the library, reading a page here and there – and from the apparently spray painted image on the book’s cover -, I’d have to admit that part of me expected something along the lines of “Twelve Monkeys.” And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it didn’t disappoint in those regards.

But Ruff’s novel is also a bit scifi (she does have a raygun), part mystery (until the end we don’t know just what is going on) and part thriller (people chasing people with rayguns!). At the same time, it’s none of those things. And I also don’t think it’s anything similar to “Catcher in the Rye.” In a way it’s like much modern fiction (particularly American) where the read is thoroughly enjoyable and there is enough material to make you want to reach for possible meanings and associations and “larger critical themes”  throughout the text but the text never delves deep enough long enough to warrant it.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it can be a frustrating thing.  Despite the read being enjoyable, despite it making me a fan of Matt Ruff and looking for more Matt Ruff books to read, I’m still generally unsatisfied by it. Within it, you can see the promise of Ruff’s abilities but it feels like out of an author’s work, all of it really really good, it is the worst of the lot.  Just read the thing and you’ll understand.


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