Bad Monkeys

Book Reviews | Jan 2nd, 2008

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Author: Matt Ruff
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 230
Retail Price: 9.99
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Jane Charlotte is an agent for a super-secret underground organization set up to defeat evil. Or she’s totally nuts. You’ll find yourself flip-flopping in your hypotheses as you read Jane’s narrative as she tells her story to a skeptical doctor at a psychiatric center.

Like all of Matt Ruff’s books, Bad Monkeys is both innovative and engaging. This book is fun to read, with story and action emulating paranoid spy thrillers with a touch of sci fi. But it’s also deeply philosophical, and I don’t mean the good vs. evil stuff, which is presented simplistically and is ultimately unimportant to the point (in fact, guilt plays a much huger role than good or evil here). The point, as any Philip K. Dick fan knows, is what is reality? And then Ruff adds his own twist to the point: how and why is reality important to a reader of fiction?

Since the book is written in Jane’s voice, the reader empathizes with her and wishes her story, which progressively becomes more and more preposterous, to be true. But when the doctor begins offering hard evidence refuting the story, how does that shake the reader’s beliefs? And to make matters more confusing, how does the reader feel once Jane starts admitting to lying about parts of her narrative?

What I found interesting was how my attitude toward the characters, and to the book itself, changed as my belief in Jane and her story changed. Which led me to wonder why the book’s internal logic, truth and reality should even matter to me personally, since the book is fiction to begin with! It’s a cool meta dimension that Ruff skillfully weaved. I mean, in Philip K. Dick’s books, only the characters would wonder what was real and what wasn’t.

But don’t think that Bad Monkeys is a betrayal to the reader’s sensibilities; it’s not. It’s also not highly conceptual or abstract – the story, taken on face value, is a fun, wild, gripping read. It’s got suspense, cinematic action, a masterfully clever story full of twist and turns, and the usual Ruffian dose of brains and heart.

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