I saw a review for Bad Monkeys in our local paper, which noted that the author, Matt Ruff, lives in Seattle. The review must have said something intriguing, because I threw a sample of the novel onto my e-reader before heading off on vacation. (But I’ve just re-read the review, and I’m not sure what it was that caught my eye. Ah well, nevermind). I plowed through two other books while lazing around Carmel-by-the-Sea, then read the sample. At the end of the sample, I clicked “buy,” without giving it a second thought.
And finished the short novel in less than 24 hours. I’m not complaining, just giving you some context. This is a quasi-novel. I don’t mean it’s a so-called “novella,” I mean it’s a quasi-sci-fi, quasi-fantasy, quasi-young-adult, quasi-thriller of a novel. Bad Monkeys seems to dip it’s toes into whatever’s convenient to tell the story.
Normally, this would be terrible. If a review told me that a novel was a little of this, a little of that, I wouldn’t bother reading the book (which just goes to show you how useful reviews are, he said in a quasi-hypocritical fashion). But Matt Ruff manages a smooth writing style and a voice that makes the book easy to read. That whole willing-suspension-of-disbelief thing? I was willing. I didn’t need things explained or justified to me.
Even when the narrator backtracks, contradicts, lies. Even when the deus ex machina is so thick you’d think you were in church. If you don’t want to experience a novel that ret-cons itself as it goes, don’t read Bad Monkeys. But if you want to have a little silly fun, go ahead.
Sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, but I don’t mean to. It’s one thing to come up with a plastic gun that shoots heart attacks at people, and populate a casino with ax-wielding killer clowns. But to do so and maintain any kind of narrative integrity is something to be admired. And enjoyed.