Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff
Jane Charlotte is in trouble. She’s been arrested for a murder that she committed as it was authorized by Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons, otherwise known as “Bad Monkeys.” Bad Monkeys are part of a much larger covert organization. As a Bad Monkey, Jane Charlotte had the responsibility to eradicate evil in American society. The Bad Monkeys did what the government couldn’t or wouldn’t. Bad Monkeys tells Jane Charlotte’s story through her discussions with her court appointed psychiatrist. As he questions her in an attempt to determine whether she is fit to stand trial, he gets into her story, which is reminiscent of “The Matrix,” and just as compelling almost all the way through to the end.
This novel was much more science fiction than I normally read. There are some neat gadgets and special powers, such as the gun that can give someone a fatal heart attack or brain aneurysm when you shoot them, educational classes that took place during sleep, cameras that were everywhere and recording everything that you were doing for playback at any time, and some wicked mind altering drugs that allow the characters to move and react exceptionally fast. Still, the fact that this novel was science fiction didn’t occur to me until nearly the end because it’s all housed within Jane Charlotte, the most deliciously unreliable narrator I’ve come across in a long time. She is so unreliable that when aspects of her story are called on the carpet by her psychiatrist, she brushes them off using one of the oldest of Biblical stories: Cain and Abel. After killing his brother, Cain was banished from his family to live with those in the land of Nod. Given that his parents were Adam and Eve and were said to be the first people on the earth, what was Nod and who lived there? Those from the Judeo-Christian tradition accept that story on faith, despite the obvious hole in the plot. So, when Jane Charlotte’s story runs into a wall with her story, the wall is simply just another “Nod problem.” She believes it and expects her audience to as well, despite its improbability. To me, this was pure genius.
Bad Monkeys hooked me from the very beginning and, as always, I love going along for the ride with unreliable narrators. I only wish that it ended as her story did in Las Vegas. Instead, what could have been an ending that would have kept me pondering whether Jane Charlotte was insane, a supreme and able liar, or a woman caught between the society and a covert operation that enabled society to run despite itself was resolved in a dirty, messy bow. I suppose one could argue that there are still multiple ways to read the ending, but none of them are nearly as satisfying as what each reader could imagine for themselves.
Although the ending left a bad taste in my mouth, I loved Jane Charlotte and the story of her life. I enjoyed that she secretly could not get enough of straight laced Nancy Drew but turn on anyone when it suited her. Because there was a slight little bit of conscious to her, I was squirming along with her when the least savory scenes from her life with the “Pet Boys” were displayed on the big screen in front of her. She couldn’t leave. She was forced to confront her ugliest self. Those scenese reminded me of how uncomfortable it is to watch Chris Hansen walk out and confront child molestors on Dateline NBC’s “To Catch A Predator.” She got herself into that situation, but I just couldn’t help wanting to rescue her.
While in the Bad Monkeys, Jane Charlotte helped those her organization determined were beyond the hope of redemption by a heart attack or anuerysm delivered from her gun. This novel raises interesting questions about living in a civilized society: Who has the right to judge whether another human being is suitable to remain in society? If the government can’t or won’t, should someone else to up the gun and dole out rogue justice? What do we really know about the motivations groups and individuals like that? What should happen with Jane Charlotte? I guess the answer to all of those questions depends upon whether you are a Nancy Drew, a Bad Monkey or a bad monkey.
As luck may have it, I received two copies of this novel and I would love to share both copies. To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment below. I will enter your name into the List Randomizer and will give the books to those who end up in the first and the last slots. You can enter this giveaway until midnight EST on Tuesday, November 4. I’ll announce the winners on November 5th.
To buy this novel, click here.