Bad Monkeys


Matt Ruff




Date Reviewed:

December 17, 2008

o doubt about it, Matt Ruff sees things differently. How else could he write such a strange story that sounds so authentic, told from the point of view of a seriously deranged individual that rings so true? It is the warped world view that makes this novel so appealing.

This book is told in the form of a debriefing by Jane, who is working for a super secret organization. Or maybe this book is a confession by Jane in the psychiatric ward of a prison. That's the neat thing about this novel - it keeps changing the definition of what is true. Jane gives the interviewer (and the reader) a description of a particular set of events from her viewpoint, and then stuff that she relates later in the narrative will completely contradict what we thought we had learned earlier in the novel.

Jane begins by recounting her younger days in high school, when she first becomes aware of the fact that the janitor is a suspicious character. Indeed, a serial killer is on the loose, but there are no suspects. Jane begins to casually spy on the janitor, and things quickly develop into a suspenseful scene where she sneaks to his house to look for evidence - it is a risky manuever, but lives are at stake. Jane's resourcefulness and courage have placed her in a dangerous situation, but it also attracts the attention of the Bad Monkeys, an organization devoted to the destruction of evil doers. The Bad Monkeys are ultra-competent, ultra-powerful group - for example, Jane is handed a Natural Causes gun. This gun inflicts death upon its targets, but it makes them appear to have died of natural causes! A handy weapon indeed.

The Bad Monkeys are strict organization, they require their members to adhere to a code of right and wrong. But Jane is impulsive, she wants to act when she sees injustice, and thus disobey some of the Bad Monkeys rules. But she is always acting with the best of intentions, of course. One of the neat things about how this book progresses is the different slant by which we come to see Jane's actions. Is she lying to herself, lying to her interviewer, or is she telling the truth as she sees it, or maybe what Jane is saying really IS the truth. I think it is masterful the way Matt Ruff keeps changing our understanding of the story with each new episode in Jane's narrative.

Ruff is inventive with his story. For example, the Bad Monkeys have a branch of operatives of called the Scary Clowns. And the Bad Monkeys have a machine for watching the bad guys - it is called the panopticon. It seems that anything that has an eye (such as a painting of a face, or a television screen showing a person) can be used by the panopticon for viewing - that's right, the Bad Monkeys can look out from a portrait. Jane will relate surprising details like that, which is what causes our understanding of her sanity to begin flipflopping.

There are a few movies which cause the viewer to change their understanding of the characters as the story unfolds - I am thinking of movies like The Sixth Sense, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, 12 Monkeys and The Usual Suspects. If Bad Monkeys could be made into a movie, I hope it would come out like one of those films. This is a good book, I should try and read more of Matt Ruff's works.