I discovered Matt Ruff through Sewer, Gas, Electric: The Public Works Trilogy. If you haven’t read that one, find it and read it. It’s wacky and subversive, and brilliantly plotted. Set This House in Order, the follow-up (though not a sequel) was several years in the works, but well worth the wait. It had so many red herrings and false leads that it read like a mystery-thriller, though it said much more about people and their relationships. Bad Monkeys was a book I eagerly awaited, and I was pleasantly surprised when I received notification that it was ready for me at the library.
It reads just like a good book should read: It’s tight, well written, compelling, and interesting. It has the same sorts of characteristics that made Set This House in Order one of the very few books that kept my wife up past midnight. And like that book, it read more like a mystery-thriller than impressions suggeste. At first, I thought it might be a “more of the same” sort of book, at least in style, but the plot is so different and so strange that it stands alone.
Bad Monkeys is about a woman named Jane Charlotte, who has been interred into a psychiatric institution, due to her possible schizophrenia. She relates the story of the events that brought her to the institution to her therapist, who is (obviously) doubtful of the accuracy of her story. And the author gives us many clues along the way to make us wonder who’s telling the truth, who’s really who they say they are, and if we’re reading along to another version of Fight Club. There are so many twists and turns in this story that it’s possible to get a little lost among the paths, but Ruff is a talented guide, who takes us to an end that may not be obvious, but is certainly satisfactory.
Unfortunately, Bad Monkeys isn’t this author’s best work. I still have to give that designation to Sewer, Gas, Electric, just because it’s the most original book he’s written (and possibly the most original book I’ve read in the past 15 years). But he is a skilled, talented author, and if you like stories with a great deal of suspense, a lot of “What the heck is going on?” moments, and want to read a compelling story that will keep you guessing, Bad Monkeys is a good place to start. Just make sure you work your way back through his catalog. You won’t be disappointed.