Bad Monkeys: Pretty cool book, totally rad cover

By Colin Williams

I am personally of the opinion that the expression, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” is a load of crap. Four out of five times I buy a book on impulse I judge it on either the author or the cover. Matt Ruff’s “Bad Monkeys” was such a purchase-the book is bound with a kind of rubbery yellow material with an angry black monkey on the cover, plus a sweet font. In the sea of corny fiction I encountered at Barnes and Noble, this was one of the few things that stood out to me. And it ended up being, if not literature, at least entertaining.The book, published last summer by HarperCollins, is essentially a thriller in the vein of Palahniuk (although not nearly as creative nor as obscene). It is mostly written in the form of an interview in the psych ward of a prison with Jane Charlotte. She claims to be an operative for a covert group called “Bad Monkeys, ” which operates as part of a larger organization known cleverly as “the organization” whose purpose is the killing of people deemed evil through careful surveillance. Jane, traumatized by the loss of her brother, Phil, sets out to kill bad guys and encounters some interesting cases. The first is a serial killer and an extortionist; the second, an insane toy train enthusiast bent on blowing up a school. It later materializes, however, that there is another association known as “the Troop, ” which exists to defend evil. Unfortunately for Jane, Phil is now part of the Troop. While she thought a child molester had kidnapped him, he was actually taken away and brainwashed by the Troop to serve as management for their schemes. In a climactic final battle involving drugs that allow people to bend time and fly, Jane finally attempts to save her brother. The ending, however, reveals that the whole book is not as it seems. More on that later.

If “Bad Monkeys” sounds campy, it is. As I said, I would hardly call it literature. It is the kind of book an edgier high schooler would certainly relish, seeing as it is filled with drugs, sex, violence, and more importantly, simple prose. The sci-fi technology (the organization’s ubiquitous surveillance device and Jane’s gun, which mimics death by natural causes, fall quite short of realistic) is another more colorful aspect of the book. But it is fairly entertaining. The plot is pretty straightforward. Ruff is no wordsmith, but he does a decent job of building up suspense throughout the novel. “Bad Monkeys,” though, might actually get boring if it weren’t for the format. Jane’s interviews with the shrink are interspersed with a third person perspective of her psychoanalysis. This setup could actually even use a little bit more emphasis.

“Bad Monkeys” is ultimately pretty juvenile and, in some cases, cliché. Ruff uses lots of plot elements that occur in too many other books to name, and though Jane Charlotte’s weird sexual habits (she goes through a bout of sleeping with teenaged boys at one point) and ambiguous tales keep the reader guessing, the overall course of everything is pretty standard, twists and all. And speaking of twists, the ending goes overboard. One twist is fine, but two? No. And they’re both kind of lame. Without giving too much away, the whole interview turns out to be a setup, and following this revelation, the setup is actually a setup. It’s almost too much to stomach after over 200 pages of buildup.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend “Bad Monkeys” unless you’re into this kind of pulpy page-turner. Regardless, it certainly won’t take up much of your time and it’s worthwhile if you’re spending all of your class time reading Joyce and Beckett-the simplicity was pretty refreshing. “Bad Monkeys” is a fun novel, if not much else. And the cover is still pretty damn cool.