on to your hats. BAD MONKEYS by Matt Ruff is an occasionally funny,
often baffling and always entertaining romp that will have you
questioning everything you know to be true. Faintly reminiscent of
some of Philip K. Dick’s earlier work from a topical if not
stylistic standpoint, it provides the answers to those questions
that come to you unbidden when you wake from a sound sleep in the
middle of the night and start thinking just a bit more than might
be mentally healthy for you.
BAD MONKEYS is primarily a narration that takes place in the Las
Vegas County Jail between a prisoner named Jane Charlotte and
county psychiatrist Dr. Richard Vale. Charlotte, who has been
arrested for murder, is being evaluated because she advised the
arresting officers that she was a member of a division of an
evil-fighting (as opposed to crime-fighting) organization.
Charlotte’s division is officially known as “The
Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable
Persons,” or, as they are nicknamed, “Bad
Monkeys.” Dr. Vale’s job is to determine if Charlotte
is lying, crazy, or something else.
Charlotte’s narrative is so compelling and detailed down to
the last nuance that it’s difficult to doubt her. She tells a
tale about her being recruited into The Organization after her
birth mother abandons her and is somehow given a pass on every test
of her initiation, even as she fails miserably at each. Her final
assignment may or may not be her ultimate test, and she may or may
not be sane. Nothing is as it seems, even those
“truths” that Charlotte holds to be basic to the
history of her life. Vale is an interesting and effective foil to
Charlotte, researching her allegations and finding them to be false
for the most part. But are they?
The deeper one gets into the book, the more one wonders about the
line (if such exists) that separates illusion from reality, the
line that is always there as opposed to the line that we construct
out of whole cloth.
BAD MONKEYS is unsettling. If you’re cracking up while
reading the book, you will find that your laughter becomes
increasingly more nervous as you proceed through it. And
Ruff’s vision is remarkably clear for a tale in which the
horizon point is so hazy. If you feel like your hold on your own
sanity is somewhat tenuous, then BAD MONKEYS may be the lotion that
frees it altogether.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010